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J Trauma. 1997 Dec;43(6):952-6; discussion 957-8.

Adequacy and efficacy of lateral cervical spine radiography in alert, high-risk blunt trauma patient.

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  • 1Department of Surgery, Medical Center of Delaware, Wilmington, USA.



The purpose of this study was to determine the adequacy and accuracy of lateral cervical spine radiographs in the initial evaluation of alert, high-risk trauma patients evaluated at a Level I trauma center.


Data were obtained retrospectively through review of trauma service admissions from January 1, 1994, to July 31, 1995. Included were all patients triaged to a trauma response team with age > 15 years, Glasgow Coma Scale score > 13, and blunt mechanism of injury. Lateral cervical spine radiograms were obtained routinely before secondary survey and were reviewed for technical adequacy (all seven cervical vertebrae, C7/T1 interspace). The presence of cervical symptoms (pain, tenderness, neurologic deficits) was recorded. Sensitivity and specificity were calculated for lateral cervical spine radiography and cervical symptoms in predicting the presence of cervical spine injury. Bayesian analysis, which allows for the current probability of occurrence to be factored by previously reported probabilities of occurrence, was used to determine the negative predictive probability of lateral cervical spine radiography and absence of cervical symptoms to predict the absence of injury to the cervical spine.


Three hundred fifty-three patients received lateral cervical spine radiograms, of which 223 (63%) were determined to be adequate for interpretation. Cervical symptoms were present in 77 patients (20%). Only 32 (42%) of this group's lateral cervical spine radiograms were adequate. Nine patients (2.4%) had acutely fractured cervical vertebrae or ligamentous disruption. Lateral cervical spine radiography showed the injury in only six of these patients. The sensitivity, specificity, and negative predictive probability for lateral cervical spine radiography were 67, 58, and 1.4%, respectively, and for absence of cervical symptoms, 89, 81, and 0.32%, respectively.


The higher accuracy and lower negative predictive probability make the absence of cervical symptoms in the alert, high-risk, blunt trauma patient a better screening test than lateral cervical spine radiography. We suggest that lateral cervical spine radiography is not needed in the initial evaluation of alert patients who have sustained blunt trauma.

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