Reliability of Indications for Cervical Spine Films in Trauma Patients

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Common emergency room practice mandates cervical spine (C-spine) films in all trauma patients with potential injuries. With the increasing costs of medical care, such liberal criteria may not be justified. This 1-year prospective study of 860 patients who presented to a Level I Trauma Center was undertaken to determine the signs and symptoms that would select the patients at risk of C-spine injury. The clinical presentation of each patient was correlated with the presence of C-spine fracture. Twenty-four patients (2.8%) had injuries demonstrated by plain film radiography. The incidence of fracture in 536 symptomatic patients was 4%. A significant likelihood of C-spine fracture was seen in patients with respiratory compromise (100%), motor dysfunction (54.5%), and altered sensorium (8.9%) (p less than 0.001). No fractures were seen in asymptomatic patients (p less than 0.001). Cervical spine radiography should be performed in patients with abnormal neurologic findings or symptoms referable to the neck. In alert asymptomatic patients, cervical spine radiography may be omitted.

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