Risk of Vertebral Artery Injury and Stroke Following Blunt and Penetrating Cervical Spine Trauma: A Retrospective Review of 729 Patients

Ahmed AlBayar, Patricia Zadnik Sullivan, Rachel Blue, Jennifer Leonard, David K. Kung, Ali K. Ozturk, H. Isaac Chen, James M. Schuster

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Background: Cervical spine trauma (CST) may result in vertebral artery injury (VAI), increasing the risk of developing stroke. Stroke risk following CST is poorly reported. Methods: In total, 729 patients with CST were retrospectively analyzed, including rates of VAI, age at injury, cause of injury, cardiovascular history, smoking history, substance abuse history, embolization therapy, and antiplatelet or anticoagulant therapy prior or after injury. VAIs were identified and graded following the Modified Denver Criteria for Blunt Cerebrovascular Injury using magnetic resonance angiography and computed tomography angiography. Brain scans were reviewed for stroke rates and statistically significant variations. Results: Thirty-three patients suffered penetrating trauma, whereas 696 patients experienced blunt trauma. In total, 81 patients met the criteria for analysis with confirmed VAI. VAI was more common in penetrating injury group compared with blunt injury group (64% vs. 9%, P < 0.0005). However, low-grade VAI (less than grade III) was more common in blunt injury group versus penetrating group (37% vs. 14%, P < 0.05). The frequency of posterior circulation strokes did not vary significantly between groups (26.3% vs. 13.8%, P = 0.21). Cardiovascular comorbidities were significantly more common in the blunt group (50%, P = 0.0001) compared with the penetrating group (0%). Conclusions: VAI occurs with a high incidence in penetrating CST. Although stroke risk following penetrating and blunt CST did not vary significantly, they resulted in serious complications in a group of patients. Further study of this patient population is required to provide high-level, evidence-based preventions for VAI complications.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e672-e679
JournalWorld neurosurgery
StatePublished - Oct 2019


  • Gunshot wound
  • Spinal cord Injury
  • Stroke
  • Surgery
  • Traumatic spinal cord injury
  • Vertebral artery


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