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OBJECTIVE:Routine immobilisation of the cervical spine in trauma has been a long established practice. Very little is known in regard to its appropriateness in the specific setting of isolated traumatic brain injury secondary to gunshot wounds (GSWs). METHODS:A retrospective study was conducted over a 5 year period (January 2010 to December 2014) at the Pietermaritzburg Metropolitan Trauma Service, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa in order to determine the actual incidence of concomitant cervical spine injury (CSI) in the setting of isolated cerebral GSWs. RESULTS:During the 5 year study period, 102 patients were included. Ninety-two per cent (94/102) were male and the mean age was 29 years. Ninety-eight per cent of the injuries were secondary to low velocity GSWs. Twenty-seven (26%) patients had cervical collar placed by the Emergency Medical Service. The remaining 75 patients had their cervical collar placed in the resuscitation room. Fifty-five (54%) patients had a Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) of 15 and underwent plain radiography, all of which were normal. Clearance of cervical spine based on normal radiography combined with clinical assessment was achieved in all 55 (100%) patients. The remaining 47 patients whose GCS was <15 all underwent a computed tomography (CT) scan of their cervical spine and brain. All 47 CT scans of the cervical spine were normal and there was no detectable bone or soft tissue injury noted. CONCLUSION:Patients who sustain an isolated low velocity cerebral GSW are highly unlikely to have concomitant CSI. Routine cervical spine immobilisation is unnecessary, and efforts should be directed at management strategies aiming to prevent secondary brain injury. Further studies are required to address the issue in the setting of high velocity GSWs.

Original publication





Emergency medicine Australasia : EMA

Publication Date





773 - 776


Pietermaritzburg Metropolitan Trauma Service, Department of Surgery, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa.


Humans, Spinal Cord Injuries, Wounds, Gunshot, Radiography, Injury Severity Score, Retrospective Studies, Immobilization, Adult, South Africa, Female, Male, Cerebrum, Cervical Cord