Morbidity after traumatic spinal injury in pediatric and adolescent sports-related trauma

View More View Less
  • 1 Computational Neurosciences Outcomes Center, Department of Neurosurgery, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School;
  • 2 Channing Division of Network Medicine, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School; and
  • 3 Department of Orthopedics, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts


Sports injuries present a considerable risk of debilitating spinal injury. Here, the authors sought to profile the epidemiology and clinical risk of traumatic spinal injuries (TSIs) in pediatric sports injuries.


The authors conducted a retrospective cohort analysis of pediatric patients who had experienced a sports-related TSI, including spinal fractures and spinal cord injuries, encoded in the National Trauma Data Bank in the period from 2011 to 2014.


Included in the analysis were 1723 cases of pediatric sports-related TSI, which represented 3.7% of all pediatric sports-related trauma. The majority of patients with TSI were male (81%), and the median age was 15 years (IQR 13–16 years). TSIs arose most often from cycling accidents (47%) and contact sports (28%). The most frequently fractured regions were the thoracic (30%) and cervical (27%) spine. Among patients with spinal cord involvement (SCI), the cervical spine was involved in 60% of cases.

The average length of stay for TSIs was 2 days (IQR 1–5 days), and 32% of the patients required ICU-level care. Relative to other sports-related trauma, TSIs without SCI were associated with an increased adjusted mean length of stay by 1.8 days (95% CI 1.6–2.0 days), as well as the need for ICU-level care (adjusted odds ratio [aOR] 1.6, 95% CI 1.3–1.9). Also relative to other sports-related trauma, TSIs with SCI had an increased length of stay by 2.1 days (95% CI 1.8–2.6 days) and the need for ICU-level care (aOR 3.6, 95% CI 2.6–4.8).

TSIs without SCI were associated with discharge to or with rehabilitative services (aOR 1.7, 95% CI 1.5–2.0), as were TSIs with SCI (aOR 4.0, 95% CI 3.2–4.9), both relative to other sports-related trauma. Among the patients with TSIs, predictors of the need for rehabilitation at discharge were having a laminectomy or fusion, concomitant lower-extremity injury, head injury, and thoracic injury. Although TSIs affected 4% of the study cohort, these injuries were present in 8% of patients discharged to or with rehabilitation services and in 17% of those who died in the hospital.


Traumatic sports-related spinal injuries cause significant morbidity in the pediatric population, especially if the spinal cord is involved. The majority of TSI cases arose from cycling and contact sports accidents, underscoring the need for improving education and safety in these activities.

ABBREVIATIONS AIS = Abbreviated Injury Scale; aOR = adjusted odds ratio; NTDB = National Trauma Data Bank; SCI = spinal cord involvement; TBI = traumatic brain injury; TSI = traumatic spinal injury.

Supplementary Materials

    • Supplemental Appendix 1 (PDF 380 KB)

Contributor Notes

Correspondence Saksham Gupta: Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA.

INCLUDE WHEN CITING Published online December 27, 2019; DOI: 10.3171/2019.10.SPINE19712.

S.G. and B.M.H. share first authorship of this paper.

Disclosures Dr. Chi is a consultant for K2M and received clinical or research support from Spineology for the study described. Dr. Groff is a consultant for DePuy Spine, NuVasive Spine, and SpineArt.


All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 161 161 161
Full Text Views 39 39 39
PDF Downloads 56 56 56
EPUB Downloads 0 0 0