Tag Archives: fracture

EAST 2018 #7: Cervical Spine Injury And Dysphagia

One of the under-appreciated complications of cervical spine fractures is dysphagia. This problem disproportionately affects the elderly, and is most common in patients with C1-C3 fractures. Swallowing becomes even more difficult when the head is held in position by a rigid cervical collar, which is the most common treatment for this injury.

How common is dysphagia in patients with cervical spine injury? What is the best way to detect it? These questions were asked by the group at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland. They  retrospectively reviewed their experience with patients presenting with cervical spine injury for 14 months, then prospectively studied the use of routine, nurse-driven bedside dysphagia screening in similar patients for a year. They wanted to test the utility of screening, and judge its impact on outcome.

Here are the factoids:

  • 221 patients were prospectively studied and received a bedside dysphagia screen, but only 114 met all inclusion criteria and had the protocol properly followed (!)
  • 17% had dysphagia overall, with an incidence of 15% in cervical spine injuries and 31% in those with a concomitant spinal cord injury
  • The bedside dysphagia screen was 84% sensitive, 96% specific, with positive and negative predictive values of 80% and 97%, respectively
  • There were 6/214 patients with dysphagia complications in the retrospective group vs 0/114 in the screened group

Bottom line: This abstract actually puts a number on the incidence of dysphagia on this group of patients. I wish the patient numbers could have been higher, but they are still very good. The results are convincing, and the negative predictive value is excellent. If the screen is passed, then the patient should do well with feeds. I recommend that all patients with cervical spine injury treated with a rigid collar undergo this simple screen, and have appropriate diet adjustments to limit complications.

Here are some questions for the authors to consider before their presentation:

  • Please share the details of the nurse-driven component of the bedside dysphagia screen, and how you determine when a formal barium swallow is indicated
  • Why did your prospective study group drop from 221 to 114?
  • When did you typically perform the screen? Fracture swelling may not peak for 3 days, so early screening may not be as good as later screening.
  • This was a nice study, with a very practical and actionable result!

Reference: EAST Podium abstract #10.

Metal Splints – Can You X-ray Through Them?

Splinting is an important part of the trauma resuscitation process. No patient should leave your trauma resuscitation room without splinting of all major fractures. It reduces pain, bleeding, and soft tissue injury, and can keep a closed fracture from becoming an open one.

But what about imaging? Can’t the splint degrade x-rays and hamper interpretation of the fracture images? Especially those pre-formed aluminum ones with the holes in them? It’s metal, after all.

Some of my orthopedic colleagues insist that the splint be removed in the x-ray department before obtaining images. And who ends up doing it? The poor radiographic tech, who has no training in fracture immobilization and can’t provide additional pain control on their own.

But does it really make a difference? Judge for yourself. Here are some knee images with one of these splints on:

Amazingly, this thin aluminum shows up only faintly. There is minimal impact on interpretation of the tibial plateau. And on the lateral view, the splint is well posterior to bones.

On the tib-fib above, the holes are a little distracting on the AP view, but still allow for good images to be obtained.

Bottom line: In general, splints should not be removed during the imaging process for acute trauma. For most fractures, the images obtained are more than adequate to define the injury and formulate a treatment plan. If the fracture pattern is complex, it may be helpful to temporarily remove it, but this should only be done by a physician who can ensure the fracture site is handled properly. In some cases, CT scan may be more helpful and does not require splint removal. And in all cases, the splint should also be replaced immediately at the end of the study.

 

EAST 2017 #3: My Neck Is Broken And It Doesn’t Hurt?

Clinical clearance of the cervical spine is a standard of care. It is usually the first method to determine if there might be an injury in patients who are awake, cooperative, and don’t have other painful distracting injuries. But appreciation of pain may be different in elderly patients, and they will frequently not notice pain from some injuries. Could this possibly impact clearance of the cervical spine?

A group at Iowa Methodist performed a retrospective review of patients > 55 with diagnosed cervical spine fractures over a four year period. They were considered to have an asymptomatic injury if they did not complain of pain, or of tenderness to palpation.

Here are the factoids:

  • A total of 173 elderly patients presented with a cervical spine injury during the study period
  • 38 of them (22%) were asymptomatic
  • The asymptomatic patients tended to have higher injury severity (ISS 15 vs 10), have a significant injury in another body region (71% vs 47%), and stayed in the hospital longer (7 days vs 5)
  • A third of patients had multiple cervical fractures (symptomatic or asymptomatic?)
  • C2 was the most common fracture level

Bottom line: I have witnessed this phenomenon myself. Not all of our elders perceive pain the same way younger patients do. This study shows that it is a very significant problem. Most of the previous papers and the only review I could find do not separate out the elderly when making cervical clearance recommendations. We will probably have to develop some specific criteria to determine when a CT scan is necessary in the asymptomatic elderly patient. In the algorithm used at my hospital, age > 65 is already used to bypass clinical clearance. Looks like I’ll have to drop that to 55!

Questions and comments for the authors/presenters:

  • Since they were asymptomatic, how do you know that you didn’t miss any patients?
  • Do you have a practice guideline for cervical spine evaluation? Has it changed based on your study?
  • Be sure to break your data down by mechanism of injury for the presentation. Were there more asymptomatic patients from falls rather than car crashes? Associated fracture patterns for each mechanism?
  • What do you now recommend for clearance?
  • Suggestion: change your title to “cervical spine fractures”, not “neck fracture”.

Click here to go the the EAST 2017 page to see comments on other abstracts.

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Reference:   Asymptomatic neck fractures: current guidelines can fail older patients. Paper #8, EAST 2017.

Why Do They Call It: The Surgical Neck of the Humerus?

Anatomy is complex and confusing at times. Pretty much everything you can find in the human body has a name. Sometimes it makes sense. Sometimes it’s named after someone famous. And sometimes, it’s just a head-scratcher.

Let’s take the surgical neck of the humerus. Here’s an image of the proximal humerus:

proximal_humerus-14a181ca9b3646a88cc1

Notice there are two different “necks” of the humerus. You are probably familiar with the anatomic neck from your anatomy classes. But if you are a resident, an orthopedic surgeon, or someone who deals with fractures regularly, you are more familiar with the surgical neck.

The surgical neck of the humerus is the most common fracture site on the proximal humerus.  But here’s the kicker. It’s a misnomer!

Just because you see a fracture of the surgical neck of the humerus doesn’t meed it needs surgery! Indeed, many of these fractures are now successfully treated with immobilization in a sling. Your friendly neighborhood orthopedic surgeons will assess fracture stability by looking at the mechanism, exact location, involvement of the tubercles, and motion. Then they will decide on their treatment plan.

Bottom line: Don’t get suckered when someone asks you what operation is usually needed for a fracture of the surgical neck of the humerus!

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What You Need To Know About Frontal Sinus Fractures

Fracture of the frontal sinus is less common than other facial injuries, but can be more complex to deal with, both in the shorter and longer terms. These are generally high energy injuries, and facial impact in car crashes is the most common mechanism. Fists generally can’t cause the injury, but blunt objects like baseball bats can.

Here’s the normal anatomy:

sinus-fracture-treatment

 

Source: www.facialtraumamd.com

There are two “tables”, the anterior and the posterior. The anterior is covered with skin and a small amount of subcutaneous tissue. The posterior table is separated from the brain by the meninges.

Here’s an image of an open fracture involving both tables. Note the underlying pneumocephalus.

frontal_sinus1

A third of injuries violate the anterior table, and two thirds violate both. Posterior table fractures are very rare. A third of all patients will develop a CSF leak, typically from their nose.

These fractures may be (rarely) identified on physical exam if deformity and flattening is noted over the forehead. Most of the time, these patients undergo imaging for brain injury and the fracture is found incidentally. Once identified, go back and specifically look for a CSF leak. Clear fluid in the nose is, by definition, CSF. Don’t waste time on a beta-2 transferring (see below).

If a laceration is clearly visible over the fracture, or if a CSF leak was identified, notify your maxillofacial specialist immediately. If more than a little pneumocephalus is present, let your neurosurgeon know. Otherwise, your consults can wait until the next morning.

In general, these patients frequently require surgery for the fracture, either to restore cosmetic contours or to avoid mucocele formation. However, these are seldom needed urgently unless the fracture is an open fracture with contamination or there is a significant CSF leak. If in doubt, though, consult your specialist.

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