Head injuries and the risk of concurrent cervical spine fractures
Cervical spine injuries of variable severity are common among patients with an acute traumatic brain injury (TBI). We hypothesised that TBI patients with positive head computed tomography (CT) scans would have a significantly higher risk of having an associated cervical spine fracture compared to patients with negative head CT scans.
This widely generalisable retrospective sample was derived from 3,023 consecutive patients, who, due to an acute head injury (HI), underwent head CT at the Emergency Department of Tampere University Hospital (August 2010–July 2012). Medical records were reviewed to identify the individuals whose cervical spine was CT-imaged within 1 week after primary head CT due to a clinical suspicion of a cervical spine injury (CSI) (n = 1,091).
Of the whole cranio-cervically CT-imaged sample (n = 1,091), 24.7% (n = 269) had an acute CT-positive TBI. Car accidents 22.4% (n = 244) and falls 47.8% (n = 521) were the most frequent injury mechanisms. On cervical CT, any type of fracture was found in 6.6% (n = 72) and dislocation and/or subluxation in 2.8% (n = 31) of the patients. The patients with acute traumatic intracranial lesions had significantly (p = 0.04; OR = 1.689) more cervical spine fractures (9.3%, n = 25) compared to head CT-negative patients (5.7%, n = 47). On an individual cervical column level, head CT positivity was especially related to C6 fractures (p = 0.031, OR = 2.769). Patients with cervical spine fractures (n = 72) had altogether 101 fractured vertebrae, which were most often C2 (22.8, n = 23), C7 (19.8%, n = 20) and C6 (16.8%, n = 17).
Head trauma patients with acute intracranial lesions on CT have a higher risk for cervical spine fractures in comparison to patients with a CT-negative head injury. Although statistically significant, the difference in fracture rate was small. However, based on these results, we suggest that cervical spine fractures should be acknowledged when treating CT-positive TBIs.