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J Emerg Med. 2011 Aug;41(2):142-50. doi: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2009.11.034. Epub 2010 May 20.

Cervical spine injuries in children, part I: mechanism of injury, clinical presentation, and imaging.

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Department of Emergency Medicine, Children's Hospital of Boston, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.



Cervical spine injuries are difficult to diagnose in children. They tend to occur in different locations than in adults, and they are more difficult to identify based on history or physical examination. As a result, children are often subjected to radiographic examinations to rule out cervical spine injury.


This two-part series will review the classic cervical spine injuries encountered in children based on age and presentation. Part I will discuss the mechanisms of injury, clinical presentations, and the use of different imaging modalities, including X-ray studies and computed tomography (CT). Part II discusses management of these injuries and special considerations, including the role of magnetic resonance imaging, as well as injuries unique to children.


Although X-ray studies have relatively low risks associated with their use, they do not identify all injuries. In contrast, CT has higher sensitivity but has greater radiation, and its use is more appropriate in children over 8 years of age.


With knowledge of cervical spine anatomy and the characteristic injuries seen at different stages of development, emergency physicians can make informed decisions about the appropriate modalities for diagnosis of pediatric cervical spine injuries.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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