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Injuries to the spinal cord are rarely isolated problems. Multiple trauma patients with spinal injuries can face significant long-term disability. In this retrospective, descriptive study we investigated the relationship between the level of spinal trauma and the injuries associated with this. We aimed to define the populations at risk and highlight trends identified.

METHODS: Analysis of 1500 trauma patients admitted to the Royal London Hospital by the Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) over 6 years was undertaken. 265 patients of these patients had spinal cord injuries (SCI). Data was obtained from the HEMS trauma registry, patient records and interviews with patients.

RESULTS: 265 patients sustained SCI (mean age: 38 25% female). The most common mechanisms of injury were motor vehicle accidents (46%) and falls (29%) Attempted suicide was a common cause of SCI in our study group (mean age 32. M:F ratio 2:1) The most common associated injuries were limb and head trauma. C-spine injuries were the most common spinal injury and were associated with the highest mortality rates (37%). C-injuries presented with a bimodal age distribution, 84% had head trauma and 30% had significant chest injuries. In patients who sustained thoracic spinal injuries 71% had severe chest injuries and 34% had head injuries. The most common associated injury in lumbar spine trauma was injuries to the limbs or pelvis (68%). Injuries to the lumbar spine occurred more frequently in the 20–40 year old age groups.

Discussion: Mortality rate in our study was 26%. Mortality rates were highest in patients with cervical spine injuries (37%). The causes of mortality were from suicide attempts, falls and RTA. The mortality rates in these groups were 20%, 22% and 32% respectfully. Our review highlights significantly higher mortality in the over 60-age group. Our population had high numbers of suicide attempts. We highlight suicide attempts as a significant aetiology for SCI. All the deaths in the suicide group were as a result of jumping from high buildings. In patients over 60, c-spine injuries are by far the common level of SCI. Subdural haematomas occurred in almost 10% of patients with c- spine injuries. Any injury to the cervical spine should therefore prompt investigation for intracranial trauma. The GCS should be closely monitored and a low threshold for performing a CT scan is advisable. Thoracic spine injuries are strongly associated with severe chest injuries. Lumbar spine and sacral injuries are strongly associated with severe pelvic and lower limb injuries. Understanding the demographics and etiology is essential to allow effective planning for spinal services. Appreciating the injuries associated with SCI should ensure better care for patients, by recognizing problems earlier and using a multidisciplinary approach to optimize treatment and reduce morbidity and mortality.

Correspondence should be addressed to Ms Larissa Welti, Scientific Secretary, EFORT Central Office, Technoparkstrasse 1, CH-8005 Zürich, Switzerland