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J Trauma Acute Care Surg. 2012 Nov;73(5):1261-6. doi: 10.1097/TA.0b013e318265cd8c.

The misapplication of the term spinal cord injury without radiographic abnormality (SCIWORA) in adults.

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Department of Surgery, MetroHealth Medical Center, Cleveland, Ohio 44109, USA.



Spinal cord injury without radiographic abnormality (SCIWORA) is generally considered a disease of children; however, it is commonly used when referring to adults who have spinal cord injury without computed tomography evidence of trauma (SCIWOCTET). The purpose of this study was to describe characteristics of patients with both adult and pediatric cervical SCIWOCTET admitted to hospitals in our region.


A retrospective review of all patients admitted to our two ACS-verified trauma centers with cervical spinal cord injury from January 2005 to December 2009 was performed. All patients with vertebral or ligamentous injury identified on computed tomographic (CT) scan of the cervical spine were excluded. Data gathered on the remaining patients included demographics, injury mechanism, Injury Severity Score, neurologic level and severity of spinal cord injury, magnetic resonance imaging results, and mortality rates.


During the 5-year period of this study, 11,644 adult patients and 3,458 pediatric trauma patients were admitted. Of these, 313 patients were thought to have cervical spinal cord injury based on International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision (ICD-9) codes, 279 (89.1%) were excluded due to injury noted on CT cervical spine, and 9 were excluded as they were found to not truly have cervical spinal cord injury after review of the medical record. The remaining 25 patients were identified as having cervical SCIWOCTET. Twenty-three patients (92%) were male. The patient ages ranged from 10 to 83 years with a median age of 56 years. The mean Injury Severity Score was 22.6. Sixty-eight percent had a mechanism of fall. Degenerative changes were found on the CT scan of the cervical spine in 96% of all patients and in all 24 adult patients. There was only one pediatric patient with SCIWORA, a 10-year-old boy who had a normal CT scan of the cervical spine but had a persistent neurologic deficit.


SCIWOCTET is mainly a disease of adults, and its subset SCIWORA, a disease of children, is much less common. Adults with this disease have CT scans showing canal stenosis and significant degenerative changes in the cervical spine; thus, it is not accurate to state that they have SCIWORA. The characteristics of this patient population are important as SCIWOCTET is the concern when clearing the cervical spines of trauma patients with a CT scan of the cervical spine negative for injury.


Epidemiologic study, level III.

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