A significant cause of morbidity and mortality in motor vehicle crashes, spinal fractures (a new study has reported) can be contained by an effective air bag-seat belt combo.
Reported in the Journal of Neurosurgery, the study examined the records of more than 20,000 crash victims age 16 and older admitted to Wisconsin hospitals after car or truck crashes from 1994 to 2002.
Dr. Marjorie C. Wang and her colleagues in the Department of Neurosurgery, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, analysed the data and correlated the incidence of spine fractures with air bag and seat belt usage.
The researchers revealed that of the 29,860 motor vehicle crash hospital admissions, a data group of 20,276 drivers and front seat passengers was analysed.
The group met the following criteria: drivers or front seat passengers age 16 or older with complete ICD-9-CM and air bag/seat belt data who were not ejected from the vehicle.
The research team observed that the use of a seat belt and an air bag together was associated with a decreased risk of a spine fracture, including more severe fractures.
They also said that only 14 percent of the drivers and front seat occupants involved in Wisconsin motor vehicle crashes between 1994 and 2002 were protected by the combination of air bags and seat belts, although this number increased from 1994 to 2002.
They added that an alarming 38 percent of the crash victims were not wearing seat belts.
According to the researchers, there were 2,530 spine fractures (12.5 percent) identified among the 20,276 hospital admissions: 1,067 cervical fractures, 565 thoracic fractures, and 1,034 lumbosacral fractures.
About eight per cent patients with a cervical fracture also had a thoracic and/or a lumbosacral fracture, while 10 per cent patients with a thoracic fracture also had a lumbosacral fracture. Eight percent of them were classified as severe.
The researchers revealed that the use of an air bag alone was associated with an increased risk of a severe thoracic spine fracture.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation has acknowledged that speeding and alcohol are two principal crash factors, as has the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
"It is possible that improved imaging techniques contributed to an increase in the diagnosis of minor spine fractures," said Dr. Wang.
"However, in our study, patients with spine fractures had longer hospital stays and higher Injury Severity Scores, suggesting that patients with motor vehicle-related spine fractures are more severely injured.
Additional research including improved classification of spine fractures will help further clarify the overall public health impact of these injuries. In conclusion, state and national resources should be dedicated towards increasing the use of both air bags and seat belts," concluded Dr. Wang.