Penetrating neck trauma

Revision as of 12:01, 22 February 2020 by Rossdonaldson1 (talk | contribs)


Zones of Neck
  • 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

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


Algorithm for CTA Neck after penetrating trauma][1]

Evaluation (WTA Algorithm)

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

Imaging Options

  • 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
    • One attempt at intubation by most experienced provider with tube one size smaller[2]
    • Consider intubation if:
  • Breathing
    • Minimize BVM (positive pressure > air into soft tissue plains)
  • Circulation
    • Place IV on contralateral side of injury
  • Disability
    • Neuro deficits may be secondary to direct cord injury or cerebral ischemia secondary to carotid injury
    • Place in C-collar if:

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
  • Esophagoscopy or contrast esophagography indicated if:
    • CT is equivocal or abnormal
    • Missile trajectory places esophagus at risk for injury
    • Persistent symptoms



  • If CT is negative, may observe patient

See Also


  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]
  2. Newton K, Claudius I: Neck in Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al (eds): Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice, ed 8. St. Louis, Mosby, Inc., 2013, (Ch) 44: pp 425-257.