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The Efficacy of Head Immobilization Techniques During Simulated Vehicle Motion

Perry, Stephen D., MSc, PhD Candidate*; McLellan, Barry, MD, FRCPC; McIlroy, William E., PhD*; Maki, Brian E., PhD*; Schwartz, Michael, MD, FRCSC; Fernie, Geoff R., PhD*


Study Design. Laboratory experiment.

Objective. To compare the efficacy of different head immobilization techniques during motion simulating ambulance transport.

Background. A significant number of neurologic injuries associated with cervical spine fractures arise or are aggravated during emergency extrication or patient transport. Previous studies have not addressed the effect of head immobilization on the passive motion that could occur across the neck during transport.

Methods. Three different head-immobilization methods were compared in six healthy young adults by using a computer-controlled moving platform to simulate the swaying and jarring movements that can occur during ambulance transport. In all tests, the trunk was secured by means of a commonly used “criss-cross” strapping technique. Efficacy of head immobilization was evaluated using measures of head motion and neck rotation.

Results. None of the three immobilization techniques was successful in eliminating head motion or neck rotation. Movement of the trunk contributed substantially to the lateral bending that occurred across the neck. A new product involving the placement of wedges underneath the head provided some small, but statistically significant improvements in fixation of the head to the fracture board; however, there was no improvement in terms of the relative motion occurring across the neck.

Conclusions. Somewhat improved fixation of the head to the fracture board can be achieved by placing wedges under the head; however, the benefits of any fixation method, in terms of cervical spine immobilization, are likely to be limited unless the motion of the trunk is also controlled effectively. Future research and development should address techniques to better control head and trunk motion.

From the *Centre for Studies in Aging, †Trauma Program, and the ‡Department of Neurosurgery, Sunnybrook and Women’s College Health Science Centre, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada.

Supported by Manus Pharmaceutical, Inc, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.

Acknowledgment date: August 9, 1997.

First revision date: February 25, 1998.

Second revision date: July 27, 1998.

Acceptance date: October 12, 1998.

Address reprint requests to

Stephen D. Perry, MSc, PhD Candidate

Centre for Studies in Aging

Sunnybrook and Women’s College Health Science Centre

2075 Bayview Avenue

Toronto, Ontario

Canada M4N 3M5

Device status category: 9.

© 1999 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins