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Initial evaluation and management of facial trauma in adults

Ryanne J Mayersak, MD, MS
Section Editor
Maria E Moreira, MD
Deputy Editor
Jonathan Grayzel, MD, FAAEM


The face is vital to human appearance and function. Facial injuries can impair a patient's ability to eat, speak, interact with others, and perform other important functions. Studies suggest that disfiguring facial injuries can have severe psychological and social consequences [1-9]. The treatment of facial injuries must first focus on threats to life, but important secondary considerations are function and long-term cosmesis.

The basic anatomy, clinical manifestations, and acute management of facial trauma in adults will be reviewed here. Eye injuries, pediatric facial trauma, and other aspects of facial trauma management are discussed separately. (See "Open globe injuries: Emergency evaluation and initial management" and "Orbital fractures" and "Retinal detachment" and "Oropharyngeal trauma in children" and "Nasal trauma and fractures in children" and "Jaw fractures in children".)


Sports like football, baseball, and hockey account for a high percentage of facial injuries among young adults [10-16]. Severe injuries often occur as a result of motor vehicle collisions, including those involving motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles, as well as interpersonal and domestic violence [17-20]. Other mechanisms include falls, animal bites, and recreational activities. Among combatants, facial injuries occur from gunshot wounds and other explosive or incendiary devices [21]. Facial trauma sustained from gunshot wounds or explosions is associated with greater morbidity and higher mortality rates [22,23]. Associated head and cervical spine injuries are common in patients with significant facial trauma [24].


The face is anatomically complex. It includes skin, muscles responsible for both gross motor function (eg, mastication) and subtle facial expression, a complex bony structure, and vital sensory organs. Injuries to the face may compromise the patient's ability to breathe, see, speak, hear, and eat, and may involve damage to the central nervous system.

Bones – The posterior portions of the face form the anterior wall of the calvaria. Thus, the face lies in close proximity to the central nervous system. The anterior facial skeleton is composed of the frontal bone, nasal bones, zygomas, maxillary bones, and mandible (figure 1 and figure 2). The sphenoid, ethmoid, lacrimal, vomer, and temporal bones lie deeper within the facial structure, providing support and sites for muscular attachments, including the muscles used for chewing, speaking, and swallowing.

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the only joint of the face and it engages in complex motions. The condyle of the mandible rotates and translates anteriorly (ie, moves forward) when the mouth opens. A meniscus, which overlies the condyle, maintains the joint and enables motion. The meniscus and the condyle form a hinged joint, allowing rotation, while the meniscus and the temporal bone form a sliding joint, allowing translation.

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Nov 07, 2016.
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