Spinal Cord Protection in a Vacuum Mattress and Improvised Splinting


Sunday, November 13 1300-1600 MST
Provided by Cyril Shokoples, Pete Symons

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Sunday, November 13 1300-1600 MST
Provided by Cyril Shokoples, Pete Symons

Half of this workshop is an introduction to the vacuum mattress for transportation of the patient with suspected spinal injuries.

In the “Wilderness Medical Society Clinical Practice Guidelines for Spinal Cord Protection” (updated 2019) the following statements are made:

  • “Several studies have demonstrated that a vacuum mattress provides significantly superior spine stability/ motion restriction, increased speed of application, and markedly improved patient comfort when compared to a backboard and a cervical collar alone. Vacuum mattress immobilization of the potentially injured spine is the current recommendation of the International Commission for Mountain Emergency Medicine.”
  • “Recommendation: Vacuum mattress provides superior motion restriction and improved patient comfort (with corresponding decreased risk of pressure sores) and is preferred over a backboard for motion restriction of either the entire spine or specific segments of concern. (Evidence grade: 1C).”

Vacuum mattress use in Europe has been widespread for decades. The vacuum mattress has similarly been widely used since the 1990s within mountain National Parks in Canada. Kluane National Park in the Yukon began using the vacuum mattress for wilderness rescue in the 1980s. Many Canadian Heliski companies have used the vacuum mattress in preference to the backboard since the early to mid 1990s. Despite their extensive use by many agencies and the growing body of evidence supporting the superiority of the vacuum mattress over the backboard, many EMS providers and urban medical practitioners have never seen or used a vacuum mattress.

The other half of this workshop will focus on Improvised splinting in the backcountry. Basic splinting and in particular improvised splinting is a skill that many advanced care practitioners have struggled with over the years relying on analgesic medication and rapid ground or helicopter evacuation. This workshop will look at the situations where rapid evacuation is not possible and situations where the patient may need to assist in their own evacuation or movement to a more suitable rescue point.