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

- Rogue Medic

Too Much Oxygen, Too Many Backboards


This week on EMS Office Hours, Jim Hoffman, Josh Knapp, and I discuss a variety of topics – quality in EMS, respect for EMS, the value of research and whether we should teach people to use research in EMS.

Too Much Oxygen, Too Many Backboards

Spinal immobilization can be done in many different ways. Strapping a curved spine to a flat piece of lumber/plastic is not the only way to do it and not even the only way that it is done in the US, nor in the rest of the world.


Long spine board immobilization is continuing to be replaced by the lateral trauma position in Norway.[1],[2]

What about in America?

Going back to 2008 (the earliest protocols available on line, all of Pennsylvania has had spinal clearance.

Immobilize the entire spine3,4 in any trauma patient who sustains an injury with a
mechanism having the potential for causing spinal injury and who has at least one of
these clinical criteria:5
a. Altered mental status (including any patient that is not completely alert and oriented)
b. Evidence of intoxication with alcohol or drugs
c. A distracting painful injury (including any suspected extremity fracture)
d. Neurologic deficit (including extremity numbness or weakness- even if resolved)
e. Spinal pain or tenderness (in the neck or back)


Without altered mental status, evidence of intoxication, a distracting painful injury, neurologic deficit, and/or spinal pain or tenderness spinal immobilization is a violation of protocol in Pennsylvania.

Alameda County, California; Xenia, Ohio; and all of Connecticut are doing away with backboards.

Spinal clearance has been in place in many more places in various forms for years, or even for decades.

Don’t let local attitudes fool you. this is not new or limited to isolated areas.

Spinal immobilization is witchcraft. There is no evidence of benefit.

Oxygen was also discussed.

There is a lot to discuss about the absence of good evidence that supplemental oxygen improves outcomes when there is no known hypoxia.
For heart attack patients, why do we want to give a drug (oxygen) that causes vasoconstriction, when our goal is vasodilation?

If the goal is to improve blood supply, and oxygen decreases blood supply, then why are we giving oxygen in the absence of evidence of hypoxia?

Supplemental oxygen without evidence of hypoxia is also witchcraft.


[1] The lateral trauma position: what do we know about it and how do we use it? A cross-sectional survey of all Norwegian emergency medical services.
Fattah S, Ekås GR, Hyldmo PK, Wisborg T.
Scand J Trauma Resusc Emerg Med. 2011 Aug 4;19:45.
PMID: 21816059 [PubMed – in process]

Free Full Text from PubMed Central with links to PDF Download

[2] The Lateral Trauma Position: What do we know about it and how do we use it
Sun, 04 Dec 2011
Rogue Medic

[3] Spinal Immobilzation – 261
2008 Pennsylvania Protocols
Page with links to protocols in PDF format.

[4] More Oxygen Can’t Hurt…Can It?
by William E. “Gene” Gandy, JD, LP and Steven “Kelly” Grayson, NREMT-P, CCEMT-P
Created: MAY 1, 2013
EMS World