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Does the horizontal position increase risk of rescue death following suspension trauma?
  1. O Thomassen1,
  2. S C Skaiaa2,
  3. G Brattebo1,
  4. J-K Heltne1,
  5. T Dahlberg3,
  6. G A Sunde1
  1. 1
    Department of Anaesthesia and Intensive Care, Haukeland University Hospital, Bergen, Norway
  2. 2
    Hemsedal Legekontor, Hemsedal, Norway
  3. 3
    Rikshospitalet University Hospital, Oslo, Norway
  1. Correspondence to Dr Guttorm Bratteboe, Emergency Medical Services, Department of Anaesthesia and Intensive Care, Haukeland University Hospital, N-5021 Bergen, Norway; gbra{at}


Background: It is widely believed that placing a patient who has been subjected to suspension trauma in a horizontal position after rescue may cause rescue death. The discussion whether position is important has been dominated by non-medical personnel. Subsequently, this has led to a general advice on emergency treatment of these patients, which may cause incorrect or even fatal treatment.

Methods: To determine whether there is any medical evidence supporting that horizontal positioning after suspension trauma may cause rescue death, the authors located publications, reports, expert opinions and other sources of information addressing the acute treatment of suspension trauma. These sources were then evaluated.

Results: Several thousand hits regarding suspension trauma were located on the internet and five articles on the PubMed. Although most of them warned of the dangers of rescue death brought about by assuming the horizontal position after prolonged suspension, the authors found no clinical studies, and none of the sources offered any conclusive evidence as to whether the horizontal position increases the risk of rescue death. Neither the authors, nor the suspension trauma experts who were contacted, had ever experienced or heard of case reports supporting the causal relation between the horizontal position and rescue death.

Conclusions: After evaluating the current literature, the authors found no support for the view that the horizontal position may be potentially fatal for patients exposed to suspension trauma. In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, the authors suggest that the initial management of patients who have had suspension trauma should follow normal guidelines for the acute care of traumatised patients, without special modifications.

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and Peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.