Clearing the Cervical Spine in the Blunt Trauma Patient

Paul A. Anderson, MD, Zbigniew Gugala, MD, PhD, Ronald W. Lindsey, MD, Andrew J. Schoenfeld, MD and Mitchel B. Harris, MD, FACS J Am Acad Orthop Surg 2010 18

The goal of cervical spine clearance is to establish that injuries are not present. Patients are classified into four groups: asymptomatic, temporarily nonassessable secondary to distracting injuries or intoxication, symptomatic, and obtunded. Level I evidence supports that the asymptomatic patient can be cleared on clinical grounds and does not require imaging. The temporarily nonassessable patient may have short-term mental status changes (eg, intoxication, painful distracting injuries) and can be evaluated by two methods. When there is urgency, the evaluation is similar to that for the obtunded patient. Alternatively, the patient can be reevaluated within 24 to 48 hours, after return of mentation or following treatment of painful injuries. The patient then can be assessed as the asymptomatic patient is. The symptomatic patient requires advanced imaging. The obtunded patient should undergo, at minimum, a multidetector CT scan. Two methods are advocated. One uses only multidetector CT; a normal result is sufficient to clear the obtunded patient. The alternative method is obtaining a magnetic resonance image subsequent to a negative multidetector CT scan. Because at present information is insufficient to determine whether MRI is indicated, this is an area of controversy.

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