Penetrating neck trauma

Revision as of 23:18, 3 June 2014 by Silas Chiu (talk | contribs) (Addition of trauma algorithm)


  • 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 w/ systemic anticoagulation

Zones of Neck

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

WTA Algorithm

Hard Signs

  • Airway compromise
  • Sub-Q emphysema/air bubbling wound
  • Expanding or pulsatile hematoma
  • Active bleeding
  • Shock
  • Neurologic deficit
  • Hematemesis
  • 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
    • Some advocate mandatory exploration, others favor selective operative management

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)