Cervical Spine Lesions
After Road Traffic Accidents:
A Systematic Review

This section is compiled by Frank M. Painter, D.C.
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FROM:   Spine (Phila Pa 1976) 2002 (Sep 1);   27 (17):   19341941

Lars Uhrenholt, DC; Niels Grunnet-Nilsson, DC, MD, PhD; Jan Hartvigsen, DC, PhD

Institute of Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics,
University of Southern Denmark,
Odense, Denmark.

STUDY DESIGN:   A systematic critical literature review.

OBJECTIVES:   To determine whether occult pathoanatomical lesions in the cervical spine of road traffic fatalities exist and if they can be identified using optimal autopsy techniques.

SUMMARY OF BACKGROUND DATA:   Previous investigations have examined pathoanatomical conditions of the cervical spine of road traffic fatalities. However, different methods of investigation have been used, and results of studies are conflicting. Hence, potential pathoanatomical conditions in fatalities and survivors remain a controversial issue.

METHODS:   Articles were retrieved searching the MEDLINE, Mantis, and Cochrane libraries. Studies examining the cervical spine of road traffic fatalities at autopsy were included and evaluated according to a set of quality criteria. For in-depth review, only studies using surface cryoplaning microtomy autopsy technique and a control group were included.

RESULTS:   Twenty-seven articles of which three fulfilled the quality criteria were reviewed. In these studies, subtle pathoanatomical lesions were found in the cervical intervertebral discs, cartilaginous endplates, and the articular surfaces and capsules of the zygapophysial joints. The lesions were found exclusively in the traumatized patients and in none of the patients in the control group.

CONCLUSIONS:   Occult pathoanatomical lesions in the cervical intervertebral disc and zygapophysial joints after fatal road traffic trauma may exist. Present imaging methods, especially conventional radiography, do not visualize these subtle lesions; hence, underreporting of pathoanatomical lesions during standard autopsy is probably common. These findings may have clinical relevance in the management of road traffic trauma survivors with potentially similar pathoanatomy.

[Key words: road traffic crashes; whiplash; postmortem autopsy; surface cryoplaning microtomy; pathoanatomical lesions; cervical spine; review; radiography] Spine 2002;27:1934-1941

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