The "seatbelt syndrome" describes intestinal and spinal injury caused by lap-style automotive restraints. More than 2,600 children were admitted to Children's National Medical Center with blunt injury in 3 years; 395 were involved in a motor vehicle crash. Ninety-five of the crash occupants (24%) were known to be wearing safety belts.
Ten children sustained a "lap belt injury": five with lumbar spine injury, four with combined lumbar spine and intestinal injuries, and one child with intestinal injury. All ten children presented with a characteristic transverse abdominal ecchymosis.
The CT scan was unreliable in evaluation of both spinal and intestinal injury. Lateral radiographs were required for definitive diagnosis in eight of nine children with lumbar spinal injury. CT scan was clearly diagnostic in only one of five children with intestinal injury.
Children wearing lap belts are at risk of a "lap belt complex." Lateral spine X-rays, peritoneal lavage, and early laparotomy are recommended to establish an accurate diagnosis and to decrease morbidity.