The objective of this study was to identify the patterns of injury in urban free-fall victims so as to establish guidelines of management. This prospective study at an academic level I trauma center included 187 consecutive patients who presented to our trauma center during a 9-month period (September 1994 to June 1995) after a fall from a height of 5 to 70 feet. Only three falls were from heights of more than 40 feet. Of these patients, 116 (65.1%) suffered significant trauma. Fractures were the most common injuries, accounting for 76.2% of all injuries. Spinal fractures were detected in 37 patients and were associated with neurologic deficits in 7. Intraabdominal injuries occurred in 11 patients, requiring operative intervention in 9 of them. Solid organ lacerations prevailed, but small bowel perforation and bladder rupture were present in one case each. A significant retroperitoneal hematoma was detected in only one case and a thoracic aortic rupture in one more. The height of the fall correlated highly with the incidence of intoxication and severity of injury, the need for operation, the length of hospitalization, and mortality. Most urban free-falls occur from moderate heights. The spinal column is frequently injured and therefore should be thoroughly assessed clinically and radiographically in all fall victims. Intraabdominal organ injuries are much more common than retroperitoneal ones. Thus the abdominal cavity should be the primary target of aggressive workup in hemodynamically unstable patients. The height of the fall is a good predictor of injury severity and outcome prognosis.
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