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Prehosp Emerg Care. 2018 Sep-Oct;22(5):637-644. doi: 10.1080/10903127.2017.1423138. Epub 2018 Feb 6.

New Immobilization Guidelines Change EMS Critical Thinking in Older Adults With Spine Trauma.



The impact of immobilization techniques on older adult trauma patients with spinal injury has rarely been studied. Our advisory group implemented a change in the immobilization protocol used by emergency medical services (EMS) professionals across a region encompassing 9 trauma centers and 24 EMS agencies in a Rocky Mountain state using a decentralized process on July 1, 2014. We sought to determine whether implementing the protocol would alter immobilization methods and affect patient outcomes among adults ≥60 years with a cervical spine injury.


This was a 4-year retrospective study of patients ≥60 years with a cervical spine injury (fracture or cord). Immobilization techniques used by EMS professionals, patient demographics, injury characteristics, and in-hospital outcomes were compared before (1/1/12-6/30/14) and after (7/1/14-12/31/15) implementation of the Spinal Precautions Protocol using bivariate and multivariate analyses.


Of 15,063 adult trauma patients admitted to nine trauma centers, 7,737 (51%) were ≥60 years. Of those, 237 patients had cervical spine injury and were included in the study; 123 (51.9%) and 114 (48.1%) were transported before and after protocol implementation, respectively. There was a significant shift in the immobilization methods used after protocol implementation, with less full immobilization (59.4% to 28.1%, p < 0.001) and an increase in the use of both a cervical collar only (8.9% to 27.2%, p < 0.001) and not using any immobilization device (15.5% to 31.6%, p = 0.003) after protocol implementation. While the proportion of patients who only received a cervical collar increased after implementing the Spinal Precautions Protocol, the overall proportion of patients who received a cervical collar alone or in combination with other immobilization techniques decreased (72.4% to 56.1%, p = 0.01). The presence of a neurological deficit (6.5% vs. 5.3, p = 0.69) was similar before and after protocol implementation; in-hospital mortality (adjusted odds ratio = 0.56, 95% confidence interval: 0.24-1.30, p = 0.18) was similar post-protocol implementation after adjusting for injury severity.


There were no differences in neurologic deficit or patient disposition in the older adult patient with cervical spine trauma despite changes in spinal restriction protocols and resulting differences in immobilization devices.


clinical protocols; geriatrics; prehospital emergency care; spinal cord injuries; spinal injuries; trauma

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