JOURNAL ARTICLE
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Clinical examination is highly sensitive for detecting clinically significant spinal injuries after gunshot wounds.

Journal of Trauma 2011 September
BACKGROUND: The optimal method for spinal evaluation after penetrating trauma is currently unknown. The goal of this study was to determine the sensitivity and specificity of a standardized clinical examination for the detection of spinal injuries after penetrating trauma.

METHODS: After Institutional Review Board approval, all evaluable penetrating trauma patients aged 15 years or more admitted to the Los Angeles County + University of Southern California Medical Center were prospectively evaluated for spinal pain, tenderness to palpation, deformity, and neurologic deficit.

RESULTS: During the 6-month study period, 282 patients were admitted after sustaining a penetrating injury; 143 (50.7%) as a result of gunshot wound (GSW) and 139 (49.3%) as a result of stab wound (SW). None of the patients sustaining a SW had a spinal injury. Of the 112 evaluable GSW patients, 9 sustained an injury: 6 with a true-positive and 3 with a false-negative clinical examination. The overall sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive value, and negative predictive value were 66.7%, 89.6%, 46.2% and 95.2%, respectively. For clinically significant injuries requiring surgical intervention, cervical or thoracolumbar spine orthosis, or cord transections, however, the sensitivity of clinical examination was 100.0%, specificity 87.5%, positive predictive value 30.8%, and negative predictive value 87.5%.

CONCLUSION: Clinically significant spinal injury, although rare after SWs, is not uncommon after GSWs. A structured clinical examination of the spine in evaluable patients who have sustained a GSW is highly reliable for identifying those with clinically significant injuries.

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