Flexion and extension radiographic evaluation for the clearance of potential cervical spine injures in trauma patients

Bonnie McCracken, Eric Otto Klineberg, Brian Pickard, David H Wisner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Background: Flexion and extension radiographs are often used in the setting of trauma to clear a cervical spine injury. The utility of such tests, however, remains to be determined. We hypothesized that in patients who underwent a negative computed tomography (CT) cervical spine scan, flexion and extension radiographs did not yield useful additional information. Methods: We conducted a retrospective chart review of all patients admitted to a Level I trauma center who had a negative CT scan of the cervical spine and a subsequent cervical flexion-extension study for evaluation of potential cervical spine injury. All flexion-extension films were independently reviewed to determine adequacy as defined by C7/T1 visualization and 30 of change in the angle from flexion to extension. The independent reviews were compared to formal radiology readings and the influence of the flexion-extension studies on clinical decision making was also reviewed. Results: One thousand patients met inclusion criteria for the study. Review of the flexion-extension radiographs revealed that 80 % of the films either did not adequately demonstrate the C7/T1 junction or had less than 30 range of motion. There was one missed injury that was also missed on magnetic resonance imaging. Results of the flexion-extension views had minimal effects on clinical decision making. Conclusion: Adequate flexion extension films are difficult to obtain and are minimally helpful for clearance of the cervical spine in awake and alert trauma patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1467-1473
Number of pages7
JournalEuropean Spine Journal
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2013


  • Cervical spine
  • Flexion extension
  • Spine clearance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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