Difference between revisions of "Penetrating neck trauma"

(Clinical Features)
(Differential Diagnosis)
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| 1||clavicle to cricoid||
| 1||clavicle to cricoid||
#subclavian artery and vein
*subclavian artery and vein
#jugular vein
*jugular vein
#common carotid artery
*common carotid artery
#apex of the lung
*apex of the lung
| 2||cricoid to angle of mandible||
| 2||cricoid to angle of mandible||
#carotid arteries
*carotid arteries
#internal jugular vein
*internal jugular vein
#cranial nerves X, XI, and XII
*cranial nerves X, XI, and XII
| 3||angle of mandible to base of skull||
| 3||angle of mandible to base of skull||
#lateral pharynx
*lateral pharynx
#cranial nerves VII, IX, X, XI, and XII
*cranial nerves VII, IX, X, XI, and XII

Revision as of 21:11, 16 December 2015


  • Defined by platysma violation
    • Assume significant injury has occurred until proven otherwise
    • Never probe neck wounds beneath the platysma (may disrupt hemostasis)
  • Multiple structures are injured in 50%
    • Stab wound can enter in one zone and damage another
  • Missed esophageal injury is leading cause of delayed death
  • GSW that crosses midline of 2x as likely to cause injuries to vital structures
  • Blunt cervical vascular injury should be treated with systemic anticoagulation
  • Penetrating injury rarely results in unstable fracture
Zones of Neck
Algorithm for CTA Neck after penetrating trauma][1]

Clinical Features

Hard vs. Soft Neck Signs
Hard Signs Soft Signs
Airway compromise Subcutaneous emphysema
Air bubbling wound Dysphagia, dyspnea
Expanding or pulsatile hematoma Non-pulsatile, non-expanding hematoma
Active Bleeding Venous oozing
Shock, compromised radial pulse Chest tube air leak
Hematemesis Minor hematemesis
Neuro Deficit/Paralysis/Cerebral ischemia Paresthesias

Differential Diagnosis

Injuries Patterns by Zone
Zone Anatomic Landmarks Potential Injuries
1 clavicle to cricoid
  • subclavian artery and vein
  • jugular vein
  • common carotid artery
  • trachea
  • thryroid
  • esophagus
  • apex of the lung
2 cricoid to angle of mandible
  • carotid arteries
  • internal jugular vein
  • esophagus
  • larynx
  • cranial nerves X, XI, and XII
  • spine
3 angle of mandible to base of skull
  • lateral pharynx
  • cranial nerves VII, IX, X, XI, and XII
  • spine
  • carotids


WTA Algorithm

Hard Signs

  • If hard signs or HD instability, attempt tamponade, secure airway, then OR.
  • If no hard signs and yet suspect injury, CTA.


  • CXR
    • Pneumo/hemothorax, pneumomediastinum
    • CTA
      • 1st line
    • Angiography
      • Gold-standard
      • Useful if embolization or stent placement are anticipated or CT inconclusive



  • Airway
    • If integrity of larynx is in question trach may be safer than intubation
    • Consider intubation if:
      • Stridor
      • Hemoptysis
      • Subq emphysema
      • Expanding hematoma
  • Breathing
    • Minimize BVM (positive pressure > air into soft tissue plains)
  • Circulation
    • Place IV on contralateral side of injury
  • Disability
    • Neuro deficits may be 2/2 direct cord injury or cerebral ischemia 2/2 carotid injury
    • Place in C-collar if:
      • ALOC, neuro deficits, or sig. blunt injury

By Zone

Zone I

  • Portable CXR
  • Evaluation is generally by selective, nonoperative management
  • Vascular control can be difficult; requires thoracic surgical approach

Zone II

  • Optimal management is controversial
    • Platysma
      • Not penetrated: obs and discharge
      • Penetrated and vitals/airway stable: CT angio of neck
      • Penetrated and unstable, expanding hematoma: OR
  • All bleeding should be controlled with pressure, not with clamps

Zone III

  • Treat as cranial injuries
  • Evaluation is generally by selective, nonoperative management
    • Routine exploration of zone III is not indicated

By Structure


  • Injuries are often initially asymptomatic
    • If missed can lead to neck space infection, mediastinitis
  • Esophagoscopy or contrast esophagography indicated if:
    • CT is equivocal or abnormal
    • Missile trajectory places esophagus at risk for injury
    • Persistent symptoms


  • Suspect if:
    • Air bubbling through wound
    • Dyspnea, stridor
    • Hemoptysis
    • Subcutaneous emphysema
  • Laryngoscopy is indicated if:
    • Suspect laryngotracheal injury even if CT is negative


  • If CT is negative may observe pt

See Also


  • Tintinalli's Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide, 7e (2010), Chapter 257. Trauma to the Neck
  • Western Trauma Association critical decisions in trauma (2013)
  1. Sperry JL, Moore EE, Coimbra R, et al. Western Trauma Association critical decisions in trauma: penetrating neck trauma. J Trauma Acute Care Surg. 2013;75(6):936–940. [1]