Occupant and crash characteristics in thoracic and lumbar spine injuries resulting from motor vehicle collisions

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Spine Journal








Automobile safety; CIREN; Motor vehicle collision; Spinal column injury; Spine fracture; Spine trauma


© 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. Background context Motor vehicle collisions (MVC) are a leading cause of thoracic and lumbar (T and L) spine injuries. Mechanisms of injury in vehicular crashes that result in thoracic and lumbar fractures and the spectrum of injury in these occupants have not been extensively studied in the literature.Purpose The objective was to investigate the patterns of T and L spine injuries after MVC; correlate these patterns with restraint use, crash characteristics, and demographic variables; and study the associations of these injuries with general injury morbidity and fatality.Study design/setting The study design is a retrospective study of a prospectively gathered database.Patient sample Six hundred thirty-one occupants with T and L (T1-L5) spine injuries from 4,572 occupants included in the Crash Injury Research and Engineering Network (CIREN) database between 1996 and 2011 were included in this study.Outcome measures No clinical outcome measures were evaluated in this study.Methods The CIREN database includes moderate to severely injured occupants from MVC involving vehicles manufactured recently. Demographic, injury, and crash data from each patient were analyzed for correlations between patterns of T and L spine injuries, associated extraspinal injuries and overall injury severity score (ISS), type and use of seat belts, and other crash characteristics. T and L spine injuries patterns were categorized using a modified Denis' classification to include extension injuries as a separate entity.Results T and L spine injuries were identified in 631 of 4,572 vehicle occupants, of whom 299 sustained major injuries (including 21 extension injuries) and 332 sustained minor injuries. Flexion-distraction injuries were more prevalent in children and young adults and extension injuries in older adults (mean age, 65.7 years). Occupants with extension injuries had a mean body mass index of 36.0 and a fatality rate of 23.8%, much higher than the fatality rate for the entire cohort (10.9%). The most frequent extraspinal injuries (Abbreviated Injury Scale Grade 2 or more) associated with T and L spine injuries involved the chest (seen in 65.6% of 631 occupants). In contrast to occupants with major T and L spine injuries, those with minor T and L spine injuries showed a strikingly greater association with pelvic and abdominal injuries. Occupants with minor T and L spine injuries had a higher mean ISS (27.1) than those with major T and L spine injuries (25.6). Among occupants wearing a three-point seat belt, 35.3% sustained T and L spine injuries, whereas only 11.6% of the unbelted occupants sustained T and L spine injuries. Three-point belted individuals were more likely to sustain burst fractures, whereas two-point belted occupants sustained flexion-distraction injuries most often and unbelted occupants had a predilection for fracture-dislocations of the T and L spines. Three-point seat belts were protective against neurologic injury, higher ISS, and fatality.Conclusions T and L spine fracture patterns are influenced by the age of occupant and type and use of seat belts. Despite a reduction in overall injury severity and mortality, seat belt use is associated with an increased incidence of T and L spine fractures. Minor T and L spine fractures were associated with an increased likelihood of pelvic and abdominal injuries and higher ISSs, demonstrating their importance in predicting overall injury severity. Extension injuries occurred in older obese individuals and were associated with a high fatality rate. Future advancements in automobile safety engineering should address the need to reduce T and L spine injuries in belted occupants.

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