Spine Injuries in Child Abuse

Julio J Jauregui, Dean C Perfetti, Frank S Cautela, David B Frumberg, Qais Naziri, Carl B Paulino
Journal of Pediatric Orthopedics 2016 September 22

BACKGROUND: Although rare, spinal injuries associated with abuse can have potentially devastating implications in the pediatric population. We analyzed the association of pediatric spine injury in abused children and determined the anatomic level of the spine affected, while also focusing on patient demographics, length of stay, and total hospital charges compared with spine patients without a diagnosis of abuse.

METHODS: A retrospective review of the Kids' Inpatient Database was conducted from 2000 to 2012 to identify pediatric patients (below 18 y) who sustained vertebral column fractures or spinal cord injuries. Patients with a documented diagnosis of abuse were identified using ICD-9-CM diagnosis codes. Our statistical models consisted of multivariate linear regressions that were adjusted for age, race, and sex.

RESULTS: There were 22,192 pediatric patients with a diagnosis of spinal cord or vertebral column injury during the study period, 116 (0.5%) of whom also had a documented diagnosis of abuse. The most common type of abuse was physical (75.9%). Compared with nonabused patients, abused patients were more likely to be below 2 years of age (OR=133.4; 95% CI, 89.5-198.8), female (OR=1.67; 95% CI, 1.16-2.41), and nonwhite (black: OR=3.86; 95% CI, 2.31-6.45; Hispanic: OR=2.86; 95% CI, 1.68-4.86; other: OR=2.33; 95% CI, 1.11-4.86). Abused patients also presented with an increased risk of thoracic (OR=2.57; 95% CI, 1.67-3.97) and lumbar (OR=1.67; 95% CI, 1.03-2.72) vertebral column fractures and had a multivariate-adjusted mean length of stay that was 62.2% longer (P<0.001) and mean total charges that were 52.9% higher (P<0.001) compared with nonabused patients. Furthermore, 19.7% of all pediatric spine patients under 2 years of age admitted during the study period belonged to the abused cohort.

CONCLUSIONS: Spine injuries are rare but can be found in the pediatric population. With an additional documented diagnosis of abuse, these injuries affect younger patients in the thoracolumbar region of the spine, and lead to longer lengths of stay and higher hospital costs when compared with nonabused patients. Because of these findings, physicians should maintain a higher level of suspicion of abuse in patients with spine injuries, especially patients under 2 years of age.

LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: Level III evidence-a case-control study.

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