Background Cervical spine injuries causing spinal cord trauma are rare in blunt trauma yet lead to devastating morbidity and mortality when they occur. There exists considerable debate in the literature about the best way for clinicians to proceed in ruling out cervical spine injuries in alert or obtunded blunt trauma patients. Methods We reviewed the current literature and practice management guidelines to generate clinical recommendations for the detection and clearance of cervical spine injuries in the blunt trauma patient. Results The NEXUS and Canadian C-Spine Rules are clinical tools to guide in the clearance of the cervical spine of patients who have sustained low risk trauma and who are pain free, with the Canadian C-Spine Rules having superior sensitivity and specificity. In the alert, high risk patient with pain (or without, if over the age of 65 years), follow up imaging is required. The best imaging modality to use is Computerized Tomography (CT) of the cervical spine. In the obtunded trauma patient, CT clearance of c-spine injury is adequate, unless there is soft tissue injury or any non-bony abnormalities detected. At such point, definitive clearance may be obtained with Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Conclusions It is imperative to assume cervical spine injury in the blunt trauma patient. Clinical decision rules for cervical clearance may be used in low risk patients, avoiding imaging. High risk patients require imaging in the form of CT scan of the cervical spine.
- Cervical spine
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