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Emerg Med J. 2008 Nov;25(11):711-5. doi: 10.1136/emj.2008.058792.

Management of penetrating neck injury in the emergency department: a structured literature review.

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Department of Emergency Medicine, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, 703 Oxford House, Nashville, TN 37232-4700, USA.



The management of patients with penetrating neck injuries in the prehospital setting and in the emergency department has evolved with regard to the necessity for spinal immobilisation and the use of multidetector computed tomographic (MDCT) imaging. Questions also arise as to choices of securing a threatened or compromised airway. A structured review of the medical literature was conducted to provide current recommendations for the management of patients with penetrating neck injury.


Databases for PubMed, MEDLINE, CINAHL and Cochrane EBM Reviews were electronically searched using the subject headings "penetrating neck injury", "penetrating neck trauma", "cervical immobilization", "multi-detector CTA" and "airway management". The results generated by the search were limited to English language articles and reviewed for relevance to the topic.


122 citations were identified that met the criteria for emphasis on emergency department care, cervical spine immobilisation, use of multidetector CT angiography or airway management. After excluding case series, non-peer reviewed articles and editorials, 20 articles were identified and reviewed.


The current literature suggests that prehospital cervical immobilisation may not be necessary unless the patient has focal neurological deficits. Studies show that patients with penetrating neck trauma who are haemodynamically stable and exhibit no "hard signs" of vascular injury may be evaluated initially by MDCT imaging even when platysma violation is present. Airway management is evolving, but traditional laryngoscopy continues to be the mainstay of airway stabilisation.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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