Article Text

Download PDFPDF

Spinal boards or vacuum mattresses for immobilisation
  1. Muhammad Ahmad,
  2. John Butler
  1. Department of Emergency Medicine, Manchester Royal Infirmary, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9WL, UK
  1. Correspondence to: Kevin Mackway-Jones, Consultant (kevin.mackway-jones{at}

Statistics from

Report by Damian Bates; Specialist RegistrarChecked by Peter CuttingSpecialist Registrar

Clinical scenario

A 60 year old man was involved in a road traffic accident at high speed. He was complaining of low back pain at the scene and he was immobilised on a long spinal board. When the patient arrived at the emergency department, he was very uncomfortable on the board and he requested removal. You wonder whether a vacuum mattress is more comfortable and provides better degree of immobilisation.

Three part question

In [patients requiring spinal immobilisation] is [a vacuum mattress than a long spinal board] at providing [comfort and immobilisation]?

Search strategy

Medline 1966–07/2001 using the OVID interface. ({exp vacuum OR vacuum$.mp OR vacuum splint$.mp OR vacuum matress$.mp} AND {back board$.mp OR backboard$.mp OR spin$ board$.mp} LIMIT to human AND english.

Search outcome

Altogether seven papers were found of which five were relevant to the three part question. These five papers are shown in table 5.

Table 5


A Cochrane review concluded that there were no relevant RCTs.6 However, studies done on volunteers have shown that the vacuum splint is more comfortable than long spinal boards with no loss of stability. A large randomised trial in trauma patients is required.

Clinical bottom line

The vacuum mattress provide comparable spinal immobilisation to the long spinal board with increased comfort.

Report by Damian Bates; Specialist RegistrarChecked by Peter CuttingSpecialist Registrar


View Abstract

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.