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Clinical Summary

Depressed skull fractures typically occur when a large force is applied over a small area. They are classified as open if the skin above them is lacerated. Abrasions, contusions, and hematomas may also be present over the fracture site. The patient’s mental status is dependent upon the degree of underlying brain injury. Direct trauma can cause abrasions, contusions, hematomas, and lacerations without an underlying depressed skull fracture. Evidence of other associated injuries, such as basilar fracture, facial fractures, cervical spinal injuries, intracerebral hemorrhage, and nerve injury, may also be present.

Management and Disposition

Explore all scalp lacerations to exclude a depressed fracture by finding the base of the wound and, if skull is evident, running the tip of a closed pair of hemostats across the skull surface to find a bone step-off. CT should be performed in all suspected depressed skull fractures to determine the extent of underlying brain injury. Depressed skull fractures require immediate neurosurgical consultation. Treat open fractures with antibiotics and tetanus prophylaxis as indicated. The decision to observe or operate immediately is made by the neurosurgeon. Children below 2 years of age with skull fractures can develop leptomeningeal cysts, which are extrusion of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) or brain through dural defects. For this reason, children below age 2 with skull fractures require close follow-up or admission.


  1. Examine all scalp injuries including lacerations for evidence of fractures or depression. When fragments are depressed 5 mm below the inner table, penetration of the dura and injury to the cortex are more likely.

  2. Children with depressed skull fractures are more likely to develop epilepsy.

  3. Ping pong ball skull fractures can occur from a forceps delivery or from compression by mother’s sacral promontory during delivery.

  4. Patients with head injuries must be evaluated for cervical spine injuries.


Depressed Skull Fracture. A scalp laceration overlying a depressed skull fracture. Scalp lacerations should undergo sterile exploration for skull fracture. (Photo contributor: David W. Munter, MD.)


Depressed Skull Fracture. CT demonstrating depressed skull fracture. (Photo contributor: David W. Munter, MD.)


Ping Pong Ball Skull Fracture. (A) Akin to the greenstick fracture, a ping pong ball fracture occurs when a newborn or infant’s relatively soft skull is indented by the corner of a table or similar object without causing a frank break in the bone. (B) CT demonstrates the ping pong ball effect. (Photo contributor: Johnny Wei, MD.)

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