Pediatric cervical spine injuries: report of 102 cases and review of the literature

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Object. To evaluate and review their experience with pediatric cervical injuries and factors affecting outcome, the authors conducted a retrospective clinical study of 102 cases (65% boys, 35% girls) of pediatric cervical spine injuries treated in the last decade. This study is an extension of and comparison with their earlier experience.

Methods. Patients were divided into two age groups—birth to 9 years (Group 1) and 10 to 16 years of age (Group 2)—and managed according to status at presentation and type of injury. Thirty patients were managed surgically and 72 nonsurgically (42 wore a halo brace and 30 wore hard collars or custom-molded braces).

Motor vehicle accidents were the most common cause of injury, and 40% were associated with head injury. Patients in the younger-age group (Group 1) sustained more neurological injuries than the older patients in Group 2, and most injuries were in the upper cervical spine. Of the 38 children in Group 1, in 39% a subluxation was present and in 29% a fracture or fracture/subluxation was demonstrated. Of the patients in Group 2, 80% had sustained fractures or fracture/subluxations. Vertebral fractures were the most common radiological findings (32%). At late follow-up review (mean 5 years), solid fusions were demonstrated in all patients. Neurological deterioration did not occur in any patient. The mortality rate was 16%. Compared with the authors' earlier report, the incidence of cases with pediatric cervical injuries increased, as did the number managed surgically. Various fusion techniques were used, and neurological and fusion outcomes improved as compared with the previous report.

Conclusions. The prognosis of neurological recovery from pediatric cervical spine injuries is related to the severity of the initial neurological injury. Management must be tailored to the patient's age, neurological status, and type and level of injury. Compared with our earlier experience, fusion and instrumentation procedures were used more frequently. Different types of fusion and instrumentation procedures can be performed safely in children and produce good outcomes.

Article Information

Address reprint requests to: Volker K. H. Sonntag, M.D., Neuroscience Publications, Barrow Neurological Institute, 350 West Thomas Road, Phoenix, Arizona 85013–4496. email: neuropub@chw.edu.

© AANS, except where prohibited by US copyright law.

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    Radiographic studies obtained in a 2-year-old child. Left: Preoperative radiograph of the patient in a halo brace, demonstrating atlantooccipital dislocation. Center and Right: Postoperative flexion (center) and extension (right) radiographs obtained 6 months after occipitocervical fusion in which a Steinmann pin and bone graft were used, demonstrating an absence of pathological motion and an increase in the fusion mass.

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