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Are computed tomography scans adequate in assessing cervical spine pain following blunt trauma?


Good quality three-view radiographs (anteroposterior, lateral, and open-mouth/odontoid) of the cervical spine exclude most unstable injuries, with sensitivity as high as 92% in adults and 94% in children. The diagnostic performance of helical computed tomography (CT) scanners may be even greater, with reported sensitivity as high as 99% and specificity 93%. Missed injuries are usually ligamentous, and may only be detected with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or dynamic plain radiographs. With improvements in the accessibility of advanced imaging (helical CT and MRI) and with improvements in the resolution of such imaging, dynamic screening is now used less commonly to screen for unstable injuries. This case involves a patient with an unstable cervical spine injury whose cervical subluxation was only detected following use of dynamic radiographs, despite a prior investigation with helical CT. In this way, the use of dynamic radiographs following blunt cervical trauma should be considered an effective tool for managing acute cervical spine injury in the awake, alert, and neurologically intact patient with neck pain.

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