Clinical examination in complement with computed tomography scan: An effective method for identification of cervical spine injury

Richard P. Gonzalez, Glenn R. Cummings, Herbert A. Phelan, Patrick L. Bosarge, Charles B. Rodning

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Objective: The purpose of this study was to prospectively evaluate a protocol that assesses the efficacy and sensitivity of clinical examination in complement with computed tomographic (CT) scan in screening for cervical spine (c-spine) injury. Methods: During the 26-month period from March 2005 to May 2007, blunt trauma patients older than 13 years were prospectively entered into a study protocol. If patients were awake and alert with Glasgow Coma Score (GCS) ≥ 14, clinical examination of the neck was performed. Clinical examination was performed regardless of distracting injuries. If the patient had no complaints of pain or tenderness, the cervical collar was removed. Patients with complaints of c-spine pain or tenderness and patients with GCS score <14 underwent CT scanning for evaluation of the entire c-spine. Results: One thousand six hundred eighty seven patients were prospectively assessed for blunt c-spine injury. Fourteen hundred thirty-nine patients had GCS score ≥14, 897 (62%) of which had a negative clinical examination of the c-spine and subsequently had cervical collars removed. Two patients (0.2%) whose clinical xamination results disclosed nothing abnormal were later found to have a c-spine injury. Five hundred forty-two patients with GCS score ≥14 had a positive c-spine clinical examination, of which 134 (24%) were iagnosed with c-spine injury. One hundred thirty-three (99%) c-spine injuries were identified by CT scan. The c-spine injury missed by CT scan was a radiologic misinterpretation. For patients with c-spine injury with GCS score ≥14, both sensitivities of clinical examination and CT scan were 99%. Two hundred forty-eight patients had GCS score <14, of which 5 (2.0%) were diagnosed with c-spine injury. CT scan identified all c-spine injuries for patients with GCS score <14. Conclusions: In awake and alert blunt trauma patients, clinical examination is a sensitive screening method for c-spine injury. Clinical examination allows for the majority of blunt trauma patients to have their c-spines cleared safely without radiologic screening. Clinical examination in complement with CT scan is a sensitive and an effective method for identification of c-spine injury in awake and alert patients with symptoms of c-spine injury. CT scan is the sensitive and effective test for screening and diagnosis of c-spine injury in blunt trauma patients with altered mental status.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1297-1304
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Trauma - Injury, Infection and Critical Care
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • CT scan
  • Cervical spine injury
  • Clinical examination
  • Distracting injuries

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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