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J Trauma. 2011 Jan;70(1):247-50; discussion 250-1. doi: 10.1097/TA.0b013e3181fd0ebf.

Motion within the unstable cervical spine during patient maneuvering: the neck pivot-shift phenomenon.

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Spine Research Laboratory, Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Administration Medical Center, Houston, Texas 77030, USA.



Cervical extrication collars are applied to millions of blunt trauma victims despite the lack of any evidence that a collar can protect against secondary injuries to the cervical spine. Cadaver studies support that in the presence of a dissociative injury, substantial motion can occur within the occipitocervical spine with collar application or during patient transfers. Little is known about the biomechanics of cervical stabilization; hence, it is difficult to develop and test improved immobilization strategies.


Severe unstable injuries were created in seven fresh whole human cadavers. Rigid collars were applied with the body in a neutral position. Computed tomographic examinations were obtained before and after tilting the body or backboard as would be done during patient transport or to inspect the back. Relative displacements between vertebrae at the site of the injury were measured from the Computed tomographic examinations. The overall relative alignment between body and collar was assessed to understand the mechanisms that may facilitate motion at the injury site.


Intervertebral motion averaged 7.7 mm±6.8 mm in the axial plain and 2.9 mm±2.5 mm in the cranial-caudal direction. The rigid collars appeared to create pivot points where the collar contacts the head in the region under the ear and where the collar contacts the shoulders.


Rigid cervical collars appear to create pivot points that shift the center of rotation lateral to the spine and contribute to the intervertebral motions that were measured. Immobilization strategies that avoid these neck pivot-shift phenomena may help to reduce secondary injuries to the cervical spine. The whole cadaver model with simulation of patient maneuvers may provide an effective test method for cervical immobilization.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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