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J Spinal Cord Med. 2007;30 Suppl 1:S21-4.

Lapbelt injuries and the seatbelt syndrome in pediatric spinal cord injury.

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Section of Pediatric Surgery, Department of Surgery, Temple University School of Medicine and Temple University Children's Medical Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19140, USA.



Approximately 250,000 patients are presently living with spinal cord injury (SCI) in the United States. Approximately 20% of patients with SCI are less than 20 years old, and 15% are less than 15 years old. The most common cause of pediatric SCI is a motor vehicle collision (MVC; approximately 40%); lapbelt injuries and the seatbelt syndrome are seen more often in children involved in MVCs.


A search and analysis of current literature on lapbelt injuries, seatbelt syndrome, and pediatric SCI using PubMed.


Children involved in MVCs who are improperly restrained are at higher risk of sustaining injuries. The risk of significant intra-abdominal injuries is increased almost fourfold in these children. Presence of abdominal wall ecchymosis (AWE) was associated with intra-abdominal injuries in up to 84% of children, with hollow viscus injury being the most common. Likewise, presence of AWE is associated with vertebral fractures, including Chance fractures, in up to 50% of patients. Vertebral fractures were associated with SCI in up to 11%. The presence of AWE in an improperly restrained child should warrant a thorough search for intra-abdominal injuries, vertebral fractures, and SCI.


Lapbelt injuries and the seatbelt syndrome are often associated with pediatric SCI in improperly restrained children. This injury complex and its associated abdominal injuries are difficult to diagnose unless a high index of suspicion is maintained; delay in diagnosis increases morbidity, and early surgical intervention should be considered.

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