Without evidence of benefit, an intervention should not be presumed to be beneficial or safe.

- Rogue Medic

Why EMS Should Limit the Use of Rigid Cervical Collars

 
Well, should EMS limit the use of rigid cervical collars?

As with the rest of anecdote-based medicine, or hunch-based medicine, we have been doing this for decades without any evidence of benefit. Do we know what we are doing?

But you have to prove that this is harmful, otherwise we cannot withhold the standard of ignorance.
 


Image credit.     Regardless of brand. A perfect fit – every time. Right?
 

Where does the burden of proof rest? In medicine, it is supposed to be the responsibility of the person treating to convince the patient that the treatment is more likely to be beneficial than harmful. This is informed consent. Informed consent is often overlooked and replaced with a blanket consent for the doctor (or designee, such as nurse, EMT, medic, . . . ) to do whatever the doctor thinks is a good idea.

Is there any valid evidence that a backboard, or KED (Kendrick Extrication Device), or rigid cervical collar will improve any outcome?

Not for the backboard or KED, but we know that the rigid cervical collar is beneficial because it stabilizes the neck and we would not use it if it didn’t work.

That is the same excuse made for using a backboards, or a KED, without evidence. Is there any valid evidence?

Can I get back to you on that?
 

Even though there should be no need to go further in criticizing rigid cervical collars, in the medical fields, we like to believe that what we have been doing is good and not harmful, because we don’t want to think of ourselves as harming our patients. Ironically, this attitude stops us from eliminating harmful treatments. We harm our patients to protect ourselves from having to admit that we were harming our patients.

For those who insist on evidence of harm, Dr. Bryan Bledsoe and Dr. Dale Carrison have provided us with a thorough evidence-based explanation of the ways that rigid EMS collars can harm our patients.
 

Interestingly, one of the first protocols that significantly changed spinal immobilization practices came out of several EMS agencies in Northern California. In a rather sweeping protocol change, they elected to forgo rigid C-collars and use soft collars.[1]

 

Do rigid cervical collars decrease manipulation of the neck/spine? Do rigid cervical collars protect patients from disability?

Read the article for a discussion of the evidence and of what we assume.

The argument in favor of backboards and collars is similar to the argument in favor of mandatory vaccination for school. It is a minor inconvenience for many, that protects against death/disability of some.

There is plenty of evidence for the vaccine argument. Vaccines are safe. Vaccines save lives. Vaccines are worth it. What about rigid EMS collars? Do they protect against death/disability?
 

Go read the article and find out.
 

Dr. Bledsoe and Dr. Carrison provide plenty of evidence to support their conclusions. What do the supporters of rigid cervical collars have?

Footnotes:

[1] Why EMS Should Limit the Use of Rigid Cervical Collars
Bryan Bledsoe, DO, FACEP, FAAEM, EMT-P and Dale Carrison, DO, FACEP
Monday, January 26, 2015
JEMS
Article

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Comments

  1. Yeah. I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that greater than 80% of the patient population don’t fit in the commercially available adjustable collars that everyone seems to use now. I think they’re in use everywhere because they store flat and are the cheapest option. Now if we could go back to yesteryear and use the old “philly” style softer collars, then maybe we’d have a winner. But you’re asking politicians doctors to stop worrying about their donors patients. And we all know they’re monetarily ethically bound to do so. So that’ll never change. Back to the drawing board Mr. Rogue.

  2. AJ Heightman did a presentation on this topic a couple weeks ago. It was chilling to see some of the pictures and x-rays of people who had been placed in c-collars. Broken necks, people dying, un-assessed injuries under the collar, and the list goes on. I’m glad someone started questioning the norm and bringing this all to light. We can’t change this practice fast enough in my opinion.

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