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J Trauma. 2003 Oct;55(4):665-9.

Reformatted visceral protocol helical computed tomographic scanning allows conventional radiographs of the thoracic and lumbar spine to be eliminated in the evaluation of blunt trauma patients.

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Department of Surgery, Division of Trauma and Burns, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02114, USA.



Patients suffering high-energy injuries are at risk for occult thoracic and lumbar spine fractures, and the standard of care includes radiographic spine screening. Most such patients require computed tomographic (CT) scanning to screen for chest and/or abdominal visceral injury. Helical CT (HCT) scanning represents a major technologic change that allows data to be reformatted after the patient has left the radiology suite. We explored the possibility of using reformatted visceral protocol HCT scanning to replace radiographs of the thoracic and lumbar spine in the evaluation of seriously injured patients.


A prospective evaluation of consecutive patients with thoracic and lumbar spine fractures admitted over a 12-month period to an urban Level I trauma center was completed. The ability of conventional radiography and reformatted HCT scanning to detect spine fractures was compared.


Of 1,915 trauma patients admitted, 78 (4.1%), with an average Injury Severity Score of 21.3 +/- 1.2, sustained one or more thoracic (n = 35 patients) or lumbar (n = 43 patients) spine fractures. The sensitivity of reformatted HCT scanning as a screening test for spine fractures was 97% for thoracic and 95% for lumbar spine fractures, compared with a sensitivity of 62% for thoracic and 86% for lumbar conventional radiographs.


Data obtained from HCT scanning performed to evaluate seriously injured multiple trauma patients for thoracic and abdominal visceral injury can be reformatted to screen for thoracic and lumbar spine fractures, providing accurate screening while eliminating the time, expense, and radiation exposure associated with conventional film radiography.

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