Spine Immobilization for Penetrating Trauma Can Be Harmful
Patients who underwent immobilization were twice as likely to die as those who did not.
Despite a lack of supportive evidence for the practice, prehospital providers often apply spine immobilization to patients who have penetrating trauma to the head, neck, or torso without neurological symptoms or deficit. These authors retrospectively assessed the effect of prehospital spine immobilization on mortality in patients with penetrating trauma using data from the American College of Surgeons National Trauma Data Bank between 2001 and 2004.
Of 45,284 patients (median age, 29), 4.3% received cervical collars, spinal backboards, or both. The overall mortality rate was 8.1%. Multiple logistic regression analysis that controlled for confounders, including Injury Severity Score and Revised Trauma Score, showed that immobilized patients had significantly increased mortality (odds ratio, 2.06); this finding held true in subgroups of patients with gunshot wounds (OR, 2.12), hypotension (OR, 2.42), and gunshot wounds and hypotension (OR, 3.19). Complete data on in-hospital procedures were available for about 31,000 patients. Only 30 patients (0.1%) underwent operative spine stabilizing procedures for incomplete spinal-cord injury. The number needed to treat with spine immobilization to potentially benefit 1 patient was 1032. The number needed to harm with spine immobilization to potentially contribute to 1 death was 66.
Increasing evidence indicates that limited intervention at the scene allows trauma patients to receive definitive care at a trauma center more rapidly. This study indicates that prehospital spine immobilization is associated with increased mortality in patients with penetrating trauma. Trying to assign cause and effect in a retrospective study is risky, but possibly increased scene time or interference with later care (e.g., intubation, radiography, examination of the patient's back) contribute to worse outcomes. Spine immobilization might be applied more wisely to patients with altered mental status, spine tenderness, or sensorimotor dysfunction.
John A. Marx, MD, FAAEM
Published in Journal Watch Emergency Medicine January 29, 2010
Citation(s): Haut ER et al. Spine immobilization in penetrating trauma: More harm than good? J Trauma 2010 Jan; 68:115.