Vertebral Column Image.png

Nerve injury is common in multiple trauma, both of the spinal cord and other nerves. Cervical spine injury is common in patients with moderate to severe head injury.

The first priority is the Primary Survey:

Anatomy[edit | edit source]


Basic Anatomy of the Vertebral Column[1]

Overview of the Bony Anatomy of the Vertebral Column - Posterior View.

The Vertebral Column[2][edit | edit source]

Consists of 33 Vertebrae:[3]

  • 24 Articulating
    • Cervical = 7
    • Thoracic = 12
    • Lumbar = 5
  • 9 Fused
    • Sacral = 5
    • Coccygeal = 4

Musculature of the Back[edit | edit source]

The Spinal Cord[7][edit | edit source]

There are a Total of 31 Paired Spinal Nerves:[3]

  • Cervical = 8
  • Thoracic = 12
  • Lumbar = 5
  • Sacral = 5
  • Coccygeal = 1

Spinal Cord Injury[8] (SCI)[edit | edit source]

Classification[edit | edit source]

Complete SCI[edit | edit source]

Consists of:

ABSOLUTE LOSS of Sensory AND Motor Function

BELOW the Level of Injury

Incomplete SCI[9][edit | edit source]

Assessment[edit | edit source]

Examination of spine-injured patients must be carried out with the patient in the neutral position (i.e. without flexion, extension or rotation) and without any movement of the spine.

The patient should be:

With vertebral (bony) injury, which may be associated with spinal cord injury, look for:

  • Local tenderness along the back
  • Deformities and stepping
  • Swelling and bruising

Clinical findings indicating injury of the cervical spine include:

  • Difficulties in respiration (diaphragmatic breathing - check for paradoxical breathing)
  • Floppy limbs and no reflexes
  • Loose anal sphincter and loss of sensation in perineum
  • Urinary and bowel incontinence or retention
  • Neurogenic Shock: Hypotension with bradycardia (without hypovolaemia or blood loss)

Assessment of the Level of Spinal Injury[edit | edit source]

If the patient is conscious, ask the patient questions about sensation in the limbs and on the torso - note where the sensation changes

Ask the patient to do minor movements of the upper and lower limbs, starting with the fingers and toes - note where there is no movement and what movements the patient can do.

If Possible and Appropriate - Undertake Complete Neurological Examinations:

Dermatomal Distribution of Spinal Nerves

International Standards for Neurological Classification of Spinal Cord Injury (ISNCSCI)[edit | edit source]

This tool represents the gold standard for assessment and documentation of spinal cord injury.[18] It is produced by the American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA), and the International Spinal Cord Society (ISCoS), the most recent version was produced in 2019.[18]

It serves as an extremely useful tool, to ensure that assessment and documentation of affected dermatomes and myotomes remains consistent.

For a downloadable PDF version of the 2019 ISNCSCI Worksheet,[19] please visit:


Example 'ASIA Scoring Case' - Explanation on how to best utilise the ISNCSCI chart to assess and document neurological findings, for a given clinical case.[20]

X-Rays[21][edit | edit source]

All patients with a suspicion of cervical spine injury should have an AP and a lateral neck X-ray with a view of the atlantoaxial joint.

All seven cervical vertebrae and the junction with T1 must be seen on the AP and lateral views.

Management[edit | edit source]

Stepwise management of spinal injury:

  • Stabilise the airway, breathing and circulation
  • Immobilise the cervical spine with a hard collar, sand bags or whatever you have available
  • Keep the patient lying flat on the back and in a neutral position
  • Pain relief and anti-nausea medication if available
  • Keep the temperature stable
  • Insert a urinary catheter
  • Transport the patient for surgical care in a neutral position; do not sit them up

Associated Conditions[edit | edit source]

Spinal Shock[edit | edit source]

Clinical Features[24][edit | edit source]

  • Initial
    • Areflexia
    • Flaccidity
  • Later
    • Spasticity

Clinical Course[25][edit | edit source]

  1. Areflexia
  2. Initial Reflex Return
  3. Initial Hyperreflexia
  4. Spasticity

NOT a Form of Circulatory Collapse

Neurogenic Shock[26][edit | edit source]

Clinical Features[27][28][edit | edit source]

  • Hypotension
    • Refractory Despite Adequate Fluid Resuscitation
  • Bradycardia

Pathophysiology[edit | edit source]

  • Typical Level of Injury is T6 Vertebrae and Above[29]
  • Autonomic Dysfunction DISTRIBUTIVE Shock:[27]
    • Parasympathetic Function = PRESERVED Inappropriate Bradycardia
    • Sympathetic Function = ABSENT Inappropriate Vasodilation → Loss of Preload → Hypotension

Management[29][edit | edit source]

  1. RULE OUT Another Cause of Shock
  2. ENSURE Adequate Resuscitation
  3. CONSIDER[30] - If Available:
    • Vasopressors
    • Inotropes
    • Chronotropes

Neurogenic Shock: Pathophysiology, Clinical Features, and Management.[31]

FA info icon.svg Angle down icon.svg Page data
Authors Matthew Arnaouti
License CC-BY-SA-4.0
Language English (en)
Related 0 subpages, 40 pages link here
Impact 455 page views
Created October 8, 2022 by Matthew Arnaouti
Modified August 14, 2023 by Matthew Arnaouti
  3. 3.0 3.1,other%20exits%20on%20the%20left.
  18. 18.0 18.1 ASIA and ISCoS International Standards Committee. The 2019 revision of the International Standards for Neurological Classification of Spinal Cord Injury (ISNCSCI)—What’s new?. Spinal Cord 57, 815–817 (2019).
  24. Robert A. Boland and others, Adaptation of motor function after spinal cord injury: novel insights into spinal shock, Brain, Volume 134, Issue 2, February 2011, Pages 495–505,
  25. Ditunno, J.F., Little, J.W., Tessler, A., Burns, A.S. Spinal shock revisited: a four-phase model. Spinal Cord. 2004; 42: 383–395.
  27. 27.0 27.1 Stein, D.M., Knight, W.A. Emergency Neurological Life Support: Traumatic Spine Injury. Neurocrit Care 2017; 27 (Suppl 1): 170–180.
  28. Go, S. Spine Trauma. In: Tintinalli, J. E., Ma, O. J., Yealy, D. M., Meckler, G. D., Stapczynski, J. S., Cline, D. M., Thomas, S. H. (eds.) Tintinalli’s Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. 9th ed. New York: McGraw Hill Education, 2020. p.1696-1714.
  29. 29.0 29.1 Parra, M.W., Ordoñez, C.A., Mejia, D., Caicedo, Y., Lobato, J.M., Castro, O.J., Uribe, J.A., Velasquez, F. Damage control approach to refractory neurogenic shock: a new proposal to a well-established algorithm. Colombia Medica. 2021; 52(2): e4164800.
  30. Kanter, J., DeBlieux, P. Pressors and Inotropes. Emergency Medicine Clinics of North America. 2014; 32(4): 823-834.
Cookies help us deliver our services. By using our services, you agree to our use of cookies.