UMEM Educational Pearls

Category: Pediatrics

Title: Pediatric Cervical Spine Injuries

Posted: 12/29/2017 by Rose Chasm, MD (Updated: 6/24/2024)
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Children less than 8 years, and especially infants, are more susceptible to upper cervical spine injury.  Moreover, validated decision rules for suspected cervical spine injury imaging have not been proven to be as sensitive or specific for children less than 8 years of age.

The pediatric cervical spine has greater elasticity of the ligamentous structures, while the cartilaginous structures are less calcified. An infant's neck musculature is underdeveloped, with a disproportionally large head.  These factors increase the risk of cervical spine injury, and can make it difficult to properly place protective cervical collars in infants while assessing them for injury. 

In very young children, consider placing padding under the shoulders to prevent abnormal flexion that can occur with placement of a cervical collar, and consider having a lower threshold to image if mechanism history or exam is concerning.

Children are not little adults!  Clinicians must acknowledge the anatomic differences, varying age-related ability to cooperate with examination, pediatric specific injury mechanisms, and decreased reliability of validated decision rules for imaging in children, especially when younger than 8 years old.


Murray BL, Cordle RJ: Pediatric Trauma, in Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, et al (eds): Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice, ed 9. Philadelphia, Elsevier 2018, (Ch) 165:p 2042-2057.

Leonard JR, Jaffe DM, Kuppermann N, et al. Cervical spine injury patterns in children. Pediatrics 2014; 133:e1179.