Ballistic penetrating neck injury and the risk of immobilisation

British military physicians reported the outcomes of patients sustaining penetrating neck injury from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. Three quarters were injured in explosions, one quarter from gunshots.

Of 90 patients, only 1 of the 56 survivors to reach a surgical facility sustained an unstable cervical spine injury that required surgical stabilisation. This patient later died as result of a co-existing head injury. The authors conclude that penetrating ballistic trauma to the neck is associated with a high mortality rate, and their data suggest that it is very unlikely that penetrating ballistic trauma to the neck will result in an unstable cervical spine in survivors. In a hazardous environment the risk/benefit ratio of mandatory spinal immobilisation is unfavourable and may place medical teams at prolonged risk, and cervical collars may hide potential life-threatening conditions.

Learning the lessons from conflict: Pre-hospital cervical spine stabilisation following ballistic neck trauma
Injury. 2009 Dec;40(12):1342-5