Cervical spine injuries in civilian victims of explosions: Should cervical collars be used?

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Abstract

BACKGROUND

Semirigid cervical collars (SRCCs) are routinely applied to victims of explosions as part of the prehospital trauma protocols. Previous studies have shown that the use of SRCC in penetrating injuries is not justified because of the scarcity of unstable cervical spine injuries and the risk of obscuring other neck injuries. Explosion can inflict injuries by fragments penetration, blast injury, blunt force, and burns. The purpose of the study was to determine the occurrence of cervical spine instability without irreversible neurologic deficit and other potentially life-threatening nonskeletal neck injuries among victims of explosions. The potential benefits and risks of SRCC application in explosion-related injuries were evaluated.

METHODS

This is a retrospective cohort study of all explosion civilian victims admitted to Israeli hospitals during the years 1998 to 2010. Data collection was based on the Israeli national trauma registry and the hospital records and included demographic, clinical, and radiologic details of all patients with documented cervical spine injuries.

RESULTS

The cohort included 2,267 patients. All of them were secondary to terrorist attacks. SRCC was applied to all the patients at the scene. Nineteen patients (0.83%) had cervical spine fractures. Nine patients (0.088%) had unstable cervical spine injury. All but one had irreversible neurologic deficit on admission. A total of 151 patients (6.6%) had potentially life-threatening penetrating nonskeletal neck injuries.

CONCLUSION

Unstable cervical spine injuries secondary to explosion are extremely rare. The majority of unstable cervical spine fractures were secondary to penetrating injuries, with irreversible neurologic deficits on admission. The application of SRCC did not seem to be of any benefit in these patients and might pose a risk of obscuring other neck injuries. We recommend that SRCC will not be used in the prehospital management of victims of explosions.

LEVEL OF EVIDENCE

Prognostic/epidemiologic study, level III.

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