BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVE:

Pediatric cervical spine injuries (CSIs) are rare and differ from adult CSIs. Our objective was to describe CSIs in a large, representative cohort of children.

METHODS:

We conducted a 5-year retrospective review of children <16 years old with CSIs at 17 Pediatric Emergency Care Applied Research Network hospitals. Investigators reviewed imaging reports and consultations to assign CSI type. We described cohort characteristics using means and frequencies and used Fisher’s exact test to compare differences between 3 age groups: <2 years, 2 to 7 years, and 8 to 15 years. We used logistic regression to explore the relationship between injury level and age and mechanism of injury and between neurologic outcome and cord involvement, injury level, age, and comorbid injuries.

RESULTS:

A total of 540 children with CSIs were included in the study. CSI level was associated with both age and mechanism of injury. For children <2 and 2 to 7 years old, motor vehicle crash (MVC) was the most common injury mechanism (56%, 37%). Children in these age groups more commonly injured the axial (occiput–C2) region (74%, 78%). In children 8 to 15 years old, sports accounted for as many injuries as MVCs (23%, 23%), and 53% of injuries were subaxial (C3–7). CSIs often necessitated surgical intervention (axial, 39%; subaxial, 30%) and often resulted in neurologic deficits (21%) and death (7%). Neurologic outcome was associated with cord involvement, injury level, age, and comorbid injuries.

CONCLUSIONS:

We demonstrated a high degree of variability of CSI patterns, treatments and outcomes in children. The rarity, variation, and morbidity of pediatric CSIs make prompt recognition and treatment critical.

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