Objective.—To identify the frequency and pattern of spinal injury sustained in mountaineering accidents.
Methods.—All patients with spinal injuries sustained while mountaineering who were treated at the Queen Elizabeth National Spinal Injuries Unit from 1992 to 2001 were studied. Information was obtained from hospital notes, and each patient completed a questionnaire.
Results.—Twenty-one patients with spinal injuries sustained in mountaineering accidents were identified. Fourteen patients (67.7%) were experienced mountaineers. Four (19.0%) were rock climbing, 6 (28.6%) were winter climbing, 6 (28.6%) were hill walking, and 5 (23.8%) were winter walking. Ten patients (47.6%) sustained cervical injuries, 5 (23.8%) sustained thoracic injuries, 5 (23.8%) sustained lumbar injuries, and 1 (4.8%) sustained cervical and lumbar injuries. Nineteen patients (90.5%) sustained fractures, 1 (4.8%) sustained a dislocation, and 1 (4.8%) sustained a fracture dislocation. Seventeen patients (81.0%) were neurologically intact, 2 (9.5%) sustained complete cord injury, and 2 (9.5%) sustained incomplete cauda equina lesions. Ten patients (47.6%) required internal fixation of their fractures. Fourteen patients (57.1%) sustained other significant injuries.
Conclusions.—This is the first study specifically aimed to describe patterns of spinal injuries and their outcomes in mountaineers. The group we studied had sustained fractures at differing spinal levels with no specific injury pattern. The incidence of cord injury was lower than in other spinal injury patient groups. The majority had also sustained other significant and potentially distracting injuries. Prehospital care providers should maintain a high suspicion of spinal injury in this group.