Musculoskeletal Trauma: Spinal Cord Injury Mangement:

Pre-hospital personnel are trained to treat all possible spinal cord injuries based on the Mechanism Of Injury (MOI) as well as symptoms and complaints.

It is important in the wild environment for rescuers to recognize a possible back injury based on MOI, but, it is equally important that they be able to rule out a spine injury or “clear the spine” by a proper history and physical exam in order to avoid an unnecessary litter evacuations.


1.  Mechanism of injury (MOI):
The neck, cervical vertebra, is broken by flexion and axial loading (C4/5)
The upper back, thoracic vertebra, by direct force.
The lower back, lumbar vertebra, by compression or rotation (T12/L1)

2.  Level of Consciousness (LOC):
AVPU scale: Awake, Verbal, Pain, Unconscious
Are the conscious, coherent, sober, or in any way obtunded.
Monitor every 15 minutes until stable, every 1 hour x 24 hours.
If unconscious or obtunded, treat as if injured until AWAKE & ALERT.

3.  Pain & Guarding:
Is there a “distracting” pain.
Are they complaining of pain anywhere in the vertebral column.
Is there radiating pain, numbness, paresthesias into the hands/arms.
Are they guarding or is there paravertebral muscle spasm.

4.  Tenderness (tenderness = pain on palpation):
Is there pain on palpation over the vertebra or in the vertebral muscles.

5.   Circulation, Sensation, & Motion (CSM):
Can they feel and move all four extremeties.
Can they move their neck and back,
With movement, is the back pain free,
With movement, is there any locking sensation or impairment.

TO CLEAR THE SPINE & BACK, they must be:
Awake, alert, oriented x 3, completely sober, have no distracting pain.
Be pain free and no palpable tenderness on physical exam.
No palpable step-offs or malalignments.
Have full C/S/M in all 4 extremeties (not caused by another injury).
Active range of motion without pain or locking.

Spinal Cord Injury Management:
Move patient into proper anatomical position = supine.
Maintain alignment = move as a unit when lifting or rolling.
Keep supine, unless an airway problem that requires the “Recovery position”
The most dangerous cervical motion is flexion.
The most dangerous thoracic & lumbar motion is rotation out of alignment.
Provide cervical immobilization with bulky, conforming, comfortable materials.
Keep supine on ensolite pad in bivouac.
If unconscious, monitor airway, if unable to monitor place in recovery position.
Transport on well-padded but rigid/stiff back supporting materials.

Cervical Collars:
Long-term cervical collars can become very uncomfortable.
You can improvise a very comfortable and immobilizing collar with a soft blanket or
clothing such has a pile jacket.  They provide support, comfort, and warmth.

Backboards or litters are only necessary for the carry-out. 
They will become very painful over time so they require extra padding especially behind the knees and in the small of the back.
Backboards are not required in litters.
While waiting for help to arrive simply keep the patient still and comfortable.
Remember not to flex the neck and keep the spine straight by log rolling the patient.

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