Cervical Spine Injuries

Brief H&P

A young patient with no past medical history is brought in by ambulance after a high-speed motor vehicle accident. Trauma survey demonstrates absent motor/sensation in bilateral lower extremities with sensory level at T3-T4. Computed tomography of the cervical spine was obtained and is shown below.

Imaging

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CT C-Spine

Fracture-dislocation at C6-C7 and C7-T1 with comminuted burst fracture to C7 and locked facet joint with resultant anterior migration of C6 over C7, unstable cervical spine fracture.

Anatomy

Atlas and Axis
Axis (C2 vertebra)
C-spine Lateral View
C-spine Radiographs
Skull base and C1/C2
Vertebral Columns

Flexion

C1/C2

Wedge fracture

  • Stretch on strong nuchal ligament transmits force to vertebral body.
  • Stability: Generally stable unless >50% compression or multiple contiguous.

Flexion-teardrop fracture

  • Severe flexion force, avulsion of fragment of anterior/inferior portion of vertebral body.
  • Stability: Unstable, involves anterior/posterior ligamentous disruptions.

Clay shoveler’s fracture

  • Oblique fracture of spinous process of lower cervical spine.
  • Stability: Stable

Subluxation

  • Pure ligamentous injury without associated fracture.
  • Imaging: Widening of interspinous and intervertebral spaces on lateral.
  • Stability: Potentially unstable.

Bilateral facet dislocation

  • Anterior displacement of spine above level of injury caused by dislocation of upper inferior facet from lower superior facet.
  • Imaging: Anterior displacement greater than ½ AP diameter of vertebral body.
  • Stability: Unstable

Odontoid process fracture

  • Head trauma with shear force directed at odontoid.
  • Sub-classification: Type I (above transverse ligament), type II (odontoid base), type III (extension to body of C2)
  • Stability: Types II, III unstable.

Flexion/Rotation

Rotary atlantoaxial dislocation

  • Imaging: Open-mouth odontoid, asymmetric lateral masses of C1.
  • Stability: Unstable

Unilateral facet dislocation

  • Flexion and rotation centered around single facet results in contralateral facet dislocation.
  • Imaging: AP radiograph shows spinous processes above dislocation displaced from midline, lateral radiograph shows anterior displacement of lower vertebra (less than ½ AP diameter of vertebral body).

Extension

Posterior neural arch fracture (C1)

  • Forced extension causes compressive force on posterior elements of C1 between occiput and C2.
  • Stability: Unstable

Hangman’s fracture (spondylolysis C2)

  • Abrupt deceleration causes fracture of bilateral pedicles of C2, potentially with associated subluxation. Rarely associated with SCI due to large diameter of neural canal at C2.
  • Imaging: May be associated with retropharyngeal space edema.
  • Stability: Unstable

Extension-teardrop fracture

  • Abrupt extension (ex. diving) results in stretch along anterior longitudinal ligament with avulsion of anterior/inferior fragment of vertebral body (usually C5-C7).
  • Imaging: May be radiographically similar to flexion-teardrop fracture.
  • Complications: Central cord syndrome
  • Stability: Unstable in extension

Vertical compression

Burst fracture

  • Force applied from above or below causes transmission of force to intervertebral disc and vertebral body.
  • Imaging: Comminuted vertebral body, >40% compression of anterior vertebral body.
  • Complications: Fracture fragments may impinge on spinal cord.
  • Stability: Stable

Jefferson fracture (C1)

  • Vertical force transmitted from occipital condyles to superior articular facets of atlas, resulting in fractures of anterior and posterior arches.
  • Imaging: Widening of predental space. Open-mouth odontoid view may reveal bilateral offset distance of >7mm between lateral masses of C1/C2.
  • Stability: Unstable

Cervical Spine Imaging Decision Rule (Canadian)

Algorithm for the Evaluation of Cervical Spine Trauma (Canadian)

References:

  1. MD RK, MD BED, CAQ-SM KHM, MD WF. Emergency Department Evaluation and Treatment of Cervical Spine Injuries. Emergency Medicine Clinics of NA. 2015;33(2):241-282. doi:10.1016/j.emc.2014.12.002.
  2. Denis F. Spinal instability as defined by the three-column spine concept in acute spinal trauma. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 1984;(189):65-76.
  3. Munera F, Rivas LA, Nunez DB, Quencer RM. Imaging evaluation of adult spinal injuries: emphasis on multidetector CT in cervical spine trauma. Radiology. 2012;263(3):645-660. doi:10.1148/radiol.12110526.