Pre-Hospital Care Management of a Potential Spinal Cord Injured Patient: A Systematic Review of the Literature and Evidence-Based Guidelines


An interdisciplinary expert panel of medical and surgical specialists involved in the management of patients with potential spinal cord injuries (SCI) was assembled. Four key questions were created that were of significant interest. These were: (1) what is the optimal type and duration of pre-hospital spinal immobilization in patients with acute SCI?; (2) during airway manipulation in the pre-hospital setting, what is the ideal method of spinal immobilization?; (3) what is the impact of pre-hospital transport time to definitive care on the outcomes of patients with acute spinal cord injury?; and (4) what is the role of pre-hospital care providers in cervical spine clearance and immobilization? A systematic review utilizing multiple databases was performed to determine the current evidence about the specific questions, and each article was independently reviewed and assessed by two reviewers based on inclusion and exclusion criteria. Guidelines were then created related to the questions by a national Canadian expert panel using the Delphi method for reviewing the evidence-based guidelines about each question. Recommendations about the key questions included: the pre-hospital immobilization of patients using a cervical collar, head immobilization, and a spinal board; utilization of padded boards or inflatable bean bag boards to reduce pressure; transfer of patients off of spine boards as soon as feasible, including transfer of patients off spinal boards while awaiting transfer from one hospital institution to another hospital center for definitive care; inclusion of manual in-line cervical spine traction for airway management in patients requiring intubation in the pre-hospital setting; transport of patients with acute traumatic SCI to the definitive hospital center for care within 24 h of injury; and training of emergency medical personnel in the pre-hospital setting to apply criteria to clear patients of cervical spinal injuries, and immobilize patients suspected of having cervical spinal injury.

 Henry Ahn, Jeffrey Singh, Avery Nathens, Russell D. MacDonald, Andrew Travers,5
 John Tallon, Michael G. Fehlings, and Albert Yee1