Object: The authors tested the hypothesis that initial alignment of the head—neck complex affects cervical spine injury mechanism, trauma rating, injury classification based on stability, and fracture pattern.
Methods: Thirty intact human cadaveric head—neck complexes were prepared by fixing the thoracic end in polymethylmethacrylate. The cranium was unconstrained. The initial spinal alignment was described in terms of eccentricity, defined as the anteroposterior position of the occipital condyles with respect to the T-1 vertebral body. The specimens were subjected to impact loading delivered using an electrohydraulic testing device. Outcomes after injury were identified using radiography and computerized tomography. The mechanisms of injury were classified according to fracture pattern into compression—extension, compression—flexion, hyperflexion, and vertical compression. Trauma was graded according to the Abbreviated Injury Scale rating system. Based on clinical assessment, injuries were classified as stable or unstable. Injuries were also classified into bone fracture or nonfracture groups. Analysis of variance tests were used to determine the influence of eccentricity on spinal injury outcomes. Eccentricity significantly influenced the mechanism of injury (p < 0.0001), trauma rating (p < 0.005), and fracture (p < 0.0001) classification. Statistically significant differences, however, were not apparent when the classification of injury was based on stability considerations.
Conclusions: Spinal alignment is a strong determinant of the biomechanics of impact-induced cervical spine injury.