Emerg Med J 20:476-478 doi:10.1136/emj.20.5.476
  • Prehospital care

Comparison of a long spinal board and vacuum mattress for spinal immobilisation

  1. M D Luscombe1,3,
  2. J L Williams2,3
  1. 1Department of Anaesthesia, Royal Hallamshire Hospital, Sheffield, UK
  2. 2Department of Orthopaedics, Northern General Hospital, Sheffield, UK
  3. 3Edale Mountain Rescue Team, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr M D Luscombe, Department of Anaesthesia, The Royal Hallamshire Hospital, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, Sheffield S10 2JF, UK; 
  • Accepted 23 October 2002


Objectives: This study was designed to compare the stability and comfort afforded by the long spinal board (backboard) and the vacuum mattress.

Methods: Nine volunteers wearing standardised clothing and rigid neck collars were secured on to a backboard and vacuum mattress using a standard strapping arrangement. An operating department table was used to tilt the volunteers from 45 degrees head up to 45 degrees head down, and additionally 45 degrees laterally. Movements of the head, sternum, and pubic symphysis (pelvis) from a fixed position were then recorded. The comfort level during the procedure was assessed using a 10 point numerical rating scale (NRS) where 1=no pain and 10=worst pain imaginable.

Results: The mean body movements in the head up position (23.3 v 6.66 mm), head down (40.89 v 8.33mm), and lateral tilt (18.33 v 4.26mm) were significantly greater on the backboard than on the vacuum mattress (p<0.01 for all planes of movement). Using the NRS the vacuum mattress (mean score=1.88) was significantly more comfortable than the backboard (mean score=5.22) (p<0.01).

Conclusions: In the measured planes the vacuum mattress provides significantly superior stability and comfort than a backboard.


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