Flexion-extension views in the evaluation of cervical-spine injuries

Lawrence M. Lewis, Martin Docherty, Brent E. Ruoff, John P. Fortney, Raymond A. Keltner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Scopus citations


Study objective: To determine the efficacy of flexion-extension (F/E) cervical-spine radiographs in detecting acute cervical-spine instability in emergency patients. Design: We retrospectively reviewed the charts of 141 consecutive trauma patients who had F/E views performed after a routine cervicalspine series (three views) was obtained in the emergency department. Interpretations of the routine series were compared with those of the F/E views to determine if additional useful information was provided by the latter. The charts also were reviewed to determine if any variables were associated with an increased use of F/E views, an increased likelihood of these views demonstrating instability, or any neurologic sequelae resulted from these studies. Setting: An urban Level I adult trauma center. Measurements: The interpretations of the routine series were noted to be either normal, abnormal but without demonstrable fracture/dislocation, or demonstrating a fracture/dislocation. The F/E views were categorized as stable, unstable, or uninterpretable. Results: Cervical-spine instability was demonstrated by F/E views in 11 of the 141 patients (8%), four of whom had normal routine cervical-spine films. Three of these four patients required surgical stabilization. Prolonged neck pain (more than 24 hours), an initially abnormal spine series, and a neurosurgical consult were all associated with an increased use of F/E views. Ten of 11 patients with radiographic instability had significant neck pain by history; the remaining patient was intoxicated. No neurologic sequelae resulted from performing F/E studies. There was one false-negative F/E study, which raises concern about the reliability of this procedure in the ED. Conclusion: We believe that a large prospective study is required to determine which patients warrant F/E views.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117-121
Number of pages5
JournalAnnals of emergency medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1991


  • cervical spine
  • flexion-extension views
  • injury


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