Indian origin researcher Harsh Grewal and colleagues at Temple University have found that ill-fitting seatbelts increase the risk of serious injury particularly spinal cord injury to children involved in car accidents.
As part of the study, researchers reviewed 10 years' worth of medical literature on motor vehicle accidents and children.
The study found that children involved in car accidents who were inappropriately strapped in seatbelts were at higher risk for 'seat-belt syndrome,' a complex of injuries to the spine and abdomen.
Researchers suggested that when healthcare professionals see bruising or seat belt marks in paediatric car accident victims, they should have a high degree of suspicion about more serious injury.
"Unless physicians are diligent, spinal-cord injuries are hard to diagnose in children. In the event of a car accident, seat belt injuries such as bruising and tenderness should warrant a search for other injuries, including spinal-cord injury, vertebral fractures and intra-abdominal injuries. If spinal-cord injury is missed or not diagnosed early, the consequences can be devastating," Grewal said.
Researchers recommended that an evaluation of a child or adolescent car-accident victim should include a complete work-up for vertebral, spinal cord and intra-abdominal injuries. In addition to bruises or marks from the seat belt, clues of more serious injury included abdominal and/or spine tenderness, and neurological deficits.
In general, seat belts and safety restraints should be adjusted according to age and weight.
The findings of the study were published in the August issue of the Journal of Spinal Cord Medicine.