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Emerg Med J. 2004 Mar;21(2):189-93.

Clearing the cervical spine of paediatric trauma patients.

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Department of Accident and Emergency Medicine, North Hampshire Hospital, Basingstoke, UK. <>



To review the evidence available for clearance of the cervical spine in children under 16 years of age after trauma, and to provide guidance to enable this to be practised safely.


A comprehensive literature review was carried out, and combined with a review of standard texts and liaison with experts.


241 papers were identified, of which 71 papers were thought possibly relevant. These were obtained and appraised. Children in whom there is concern about possible cervical spine injury may be divided into three groups. Alert, asymptomatic children with a normal examination may be clinically cleared without need for radiology. Children with cervical spine symptoms or signs require plain radiology in the first instance. Those areas that are poorly visualised or suspicious should be discussed with a paediatric radiologist and are likely to undergo computed tomography. Children with impaired conscious level require careful evaluation. Plain radiology, if normal, can be usefully complemented by early magnetic resonance imaging to exclude ligamentous and spinal cord damage.


There is limited evidence to guide clinicians on how to clear the paediatric cervical spine. The approach suggested is similar to adult recommendations made elsewhere, and the differences are highlighted.

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