Cervical Spine Injury is Rare in Self-Inflicted Craniofacial Gunshot Wounds: An Institutional Review and Comparison to the US National Trauma Data Bank (NTDB)

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Prehospital and Disaster Medicine





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Background: Cadaveric and older radiographic studies suggest that concurrent cervical spine fractures are rare in gunshot wounds (GSWs) to the head. Despite this knowledge, patients with craniofacial GSWs often arrive with spinal motion restriction (SMR) in place. This study quantifies the incidence of cervical spine injuries in GSWs to the head, identified using computerized tomography (CT). Fracture frequency is hypothesized to be lower in self-inflicted (SI) injuries. Methods: Isolated craniofacial GSWs were queried from this Level I trauma center registry from 2013-2017 and the US National Trauma Data Bank (NTDB) from 2012–2016 (head or face abbreviated injury scale [AIS] >2). Datasets included age, gender, SI versus not, cervical spine injury, spinal surgery, and mortality. For this hospital’s data, prehospital factors, SMR, and CTs performed were assessed. Statistical evaluation was done with Stata software, with P <.05 significant. Results: Two-hundred forty-one patients from this hospital (mean age 39; 85% male; 66% SI) and 5,849 from the NTDB (mean age 38; 84% male; 53% SI) were included. For both cohorts, SI patients were older (P < .01) and had increased mortality (P < .01). Overall, cervical spine fractures occurred in 3.7%, with 5.4% requiring spinal surgery (0.2% of all patients). The frequency of fracture was five-fold greater in non-SI (P < .05). Locally, SMR was present in 121 (50.2%) prior to arrival with six collars (2.5%) placed in the trauma bay. Frequency of SMR was similar regardless of SI status (49.0% versus 51.0%; P = not significant) but less frequent in hypotensive patients and those receiving cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). The presence of SMR was associated with an increased use of CT of the cervical spine (80.0% versus 33.0%; P < .01). Conclusion: Cervical spine fractures were identified in less than four percent of isolated GSWs to the head and face, more frequently in non-SI cases. Prehospital SMR should be avoided in cases consistent with SI injury, and for all others, SMR should be discontinued once CT imaging is completed with negative results.


Cervical Spine Fracture; Cranial Gunshot Wound; Self-Inflicted; Spinal Motion Restriction


Medical Specialties | Medicine and Health Sciences | Surgery



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