Risk factors that have good test accuracy in recognizing pediatric cervical spinal injury (CSI) exist, and they can be incorporated into a clinical prediction rule that has the potential to greatly lower the need for cervical spine imaging during trauma evaluation, Julie C Leonard, MD, MPH, and associates reported in.
Though rare, cervical spine injuries in children lead to significant morbidity and mortality, and the vast majority of these children screened radiographically have no injury at all, which makes the inherent lifetime risk of malignancy from unnecessary radiation exposure troubling to many.
In their 2014-2016 prospective observational study in which 4,091 children aged 0-17 years were evaluated for blunt trauma in one of four U.S. tertiary care children’s hospitals, 2% had CSIs.
The mean age in the cohort was 9 years; the mean age of CSI patients was 11 years. Fully 39% of patients were under 8 years of age and 23 (1%) had CSIs. Among those with CSIs, more were boys, white, and non-Hispanic. Motor vehicle crash and sports-related injuries were reported to be the most common route of injury in all children.
The main goal of the study was to “establish the infrastructure for conducting a larger cohort study,” said Dr. Leonard of Ohio State University Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, and associates. They were successful in confirming the existence of an association between CSI and head injury. Specifically, the greatest independent associations with pediatric CSI were substantial head injury, namely basilar skull fracture; signs of traumatic brain injury, such as altered mental status; respiratory failure and intubation; and head-first impacts.
The authors were careful to point out that risk factors identified in their study differed from other studies focused on adult injury, specifically with regard to neck findings. They speculated that the increased neck and spine tenderness that commonly increase following restrictive supine positioning in a cervical collar on a rigid long board could play a key role. They also speculated that ED clinicians may be more likely to “defer aspects of the neck examination” in cases where children present wearing cervical collars, which limits assessment to self reporting.
As with adult evaluation, in which adult CSI prediction rules for cervical imaging depend upon determining the extent of normal mental status after blunt trauma, successful identification of pediatric candidates will require a similar set of CSI prediction rules. “Future development of a robust pediatric CSI prediction rule should be focused on stratification based on mental status because it may be meaningful in determining which children to triage to CT scan,” the investigators advised.
Future research exploring how these risk factors can be used to build a clear, pediatric CSI prediction rule that is prospective and observational in nature is crucial to improving the timeliness and accuracy of CSI diagnosis, Dr. Leonard and associates said.
In an accompanying editorial, Mark I. Neuman, MD, MPH and Rebekah C. Mannix, MD, MPH, noted that evidence uncovered by Leonard et al. will, no doubt, provide the conceptual foundation for a future multicenter trial that can establish effective criteria needed to consider the use of imaging when evaluating CSI in children.
Previously, the National Emergency X-Ray Utilization Study (NEXUS) was the largestof CSI that also included children. The Leonard et al. study includes a much higher proportion of children, 39% of whom were younger than 8 years of age. Although the sensitivities of the models used in this latest study are lower than for those used in the NEXUS study, the specificity is much higher at 46%-50%, which has noteworthy implications for classifying children at risk of CSI. “If validated, these findings have the potential to spare imaging in over one-third of children,” said Dr. Neuman and Dr. Mannix, both of the division of emergency medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital, and the department of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, Boston.
“The complex and varying nature of CSI in children, the result of differences in the intrinsic biomechanics of the pediatric cervical spine, mechanism of injury, and variable presentations between younger and older children pose challenges for the development of a universal, simple, and highly sensitive clinical prediction rule,” they concluded.
The National Institutes of Health funded the study, and Dr. Leonard received a grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The authors had no relevant disclosures. There was no external funding for the accompanying editorial and Dr. Neuman and Dr. Mannix said they had no relevant disclosures.
SOURCE: Leonard J et al. Neuman MI et al.