Penetrating traumatic neck injury can be a potentially devastating injury due to the high density of crucial anatomical structures within the neck.
Young males are highly represented in patients with a traumatic neck injury. In one study, 11:1 ratio of males to females were identified in patients with penetrating neck injury 3.
The neck has traditionally been divided into three anatomic zones when describing penetrating neck trauma, which guides clinical management 2:
zone 1: from the level of the clavicles and sternal notch to the cricoid cartilage
- important structures include the aortic arch, proximal carotid arteries, vertebral arteries, subclavian vessels, innominate vessels, lung apices, oesophagus, trachea, brachial plexus and thoracic duct
zone 2: from the cricoid cartilage to the angle of the mandible
- important structures include the common, internal and external carotid arteries, the jugular veins, larynx, hypopharynx and proximal oesophagus
zone 3: from the angle of the mandible to base of skull
- important structures include the internal carotid artery, vertebral artery, external carotid artery, jugular veins, prevertebral venous plexus and facial nerve trunk
Injuries mostly (~80%) occur in zone 2. ~10% of injuries involve two zones 5.
Treatment and prognosis
Treatment of neck injury depends on the severity of injury and the zones of the neck which are involved. Previously, zone 2 injuries penetrating the platysma were thought to require immediate surgical exploration. One current study suggests that thorough clinical examination can prevent unnecessary surgical exploration of zone 2 neck injuries. Clinical criteria which would indicate surgical intervention/exploration include:
- exsanguinating haemorrhage
- expanding haematoma
- airway compromise
- massive subcutaneous haematoma
Zone I and III injuries are evaluated more selectively, particularly due to the difficulty in their surgical accessibility 4.
While endovascular techniques have seen increasing use in other traumatic vascular injuries, open surgical repair is considered the gold standard for most vascular neck trauma. One study suggests that patients with stable, intimal, high zone 3 carotid injuries and vertebral artery injuries can be repaired endovascularly. Otherwise, surgical exploration is the intervention of choice.
- 1. Bell RB, Osborn T, Dierks EJ et-al. Management of penetrating neck injuries: a new paradigm for civilian trauma. J. Oral Maxillofac. Surg. 2007;65 (4): 691-705. doi:10.1016/j.joms.2006.04.044 - Pubmed citation
- 2. Roon AJ, Christensen N. Evaluation and treatment of penetrating cervical injuries. J Trauma. 1979;19 (6): 391-7. Pubmed citation
- 3. Ghnnam WM, Bazeed MF. Penetrating Neck Trauma in a Level II Trauma Hospital, Saudi Arabia. ISRN Emergency Medicine, vol. 2012, Article ID 672948, 6 pages, 2012. doi:10.5402/2012/672948
- 4. Shiroff AM, Gale SC, Martin ND et-al. Penetrating neck trauma: a review of management strategies and discussion of the 'No Zone' approach. Am Surg. 2013;79 (1): 23-9. Pubmed citation
- 5. Irish JC, Hekkenberg R, Gullane PJ et-al. Penetrating and blunt neck trauma: 10-year review of a Canadian experience. Can J Surg. 1997;40 (1): 33-8. Free text at pubmed - Pubmed citation