Falls from Height: Spine, Spine, Spine!

George C. Velmahos*, Konstantinos Spaniolas, Hasan B. Alam, Marc de Moya, Alice Gervasini, Laurie Petrovick, Alasdair K. Conn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Background: Falls from a height are a major cause of morbidity and hospital cost. Spinal injury is frequently associated with falls from height, but reliable predictive factors have not been identified. Diagnostic evaluation of the spine is complex and debated. Our objective was to characterize spinal injury after falls from height and identify predictive factors of spinal injuries. Study design: Medical records of patients with falls from height > 10 feet admitted in a Level I trauma center during a period of 66 months were reviewed. Univariate and multivariate analyses were performed to identify independent risk factors of spinal injuries. Results: Of 414 patients, 127 (31%) suffered 277 spinal injuries. Multiple spinal injuries at different levels were found in 62 (49%) patients; in 19 (15%) spinal injuries were at noncontinuous levels. The only independent predictor of spinal injury was alcohol intoxication (odds ratio = 3.305; 95% CI, 1.75-6.242; p < 0.001) but the number of intoxicated patients was low and the predictive ability weak. Level of falls from height did not correlate with likelihood of spinal injury. Twenty-four of 107 (22%) patients with spinal injuries and a reliable clinical examination had no symptoms related to the spine; all but 2 had distracting injuries. Conclusions: Spinal injury is frequent among survivors of falls from height > 10 feet. Because of the absence of reliable predictors of spinal injury, the possibility of multiple noncontinuous fractures, and the presence of distracting injuries clouding the clinical presentation, aggressive evaluation of the entire spine is warranted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)605-611
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of the American College of Surgeons
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2006
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery

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