Computed tomographic screening for thoracic and lumbar fractures: is spine reformatting necessary?

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10 Scopus citations


Introduction: Patients who sustain traumatic vertebral fractures often have multiple other associated injuries. Because of the mechanisms of injury, many of these patients routinely undergo chest computed tomographic (CCT) and/or abdominal/pelvic computed tomographic (APCT) scans to diagnose intrathoracic or intra-abdominal injuries. These scans are routinely reformatted to provide more detailed imaging of the spine. Although the patient does not incur more radiation, the charges associated with this are significant. This study compared the sensitivity of these CT modalities in detecting thoracolumbar spine fractures. Methods: A retrospective chart review identified blunt trauma victims, admitted through the emergency department, with a discharge diagnosis of thoracic or lumbar spine fracture that received (1) a chest and T-spine CT, (2) an abdominal/pelvic and lumbar spine CT, or both. Final radiologic readings of these patients' CT scans were obtained, and the sensitivities of the different imaging methods were compared. Discharge diagnosis of spine fracture was considered the gold standard. Results: One hundred seventy-six APCT scans with reformatting and 175 CCT scans with reformatting were available for comparison. There were 9 of 176 false-negative APCT scans vs 3/176 false-negative lumbar spine CT scans. There were 14/175 false-negative CCT scans vs 2/175 false-negative thoracic spine CT scans. The differences in sensitivity were significant (P < .001) for both comparisons. Conclusions: Reformatting of CCT and APCT scans gives improved sensitivity in the detection of thoracic and lumbar spine fractures in trauma patients. Future study looking at clinically significant fractures or those that change clinical management decisions may find that the reformatted images are not routinely needed as a screening tool.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)73-75
Number of pages3
JournalAmerican Journal of Emergency Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2010
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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