I have heard a fair amount of talk recently about how safe the long spine boards frequently used by EMS personnel after falls and car accidents are. How many - if any - studies have been done on this?

If there have been studies done on this I would like to know what the conclusion was. What are the chances of having damage done by being on one for any length of time?

This link to EMS World is where I got the information about the possible safety issues.

  • 3
    Whoever downvoted, please add advice on improving the question when downvoting. @LB, perhaps you could provide a reference to the "fair amount of talk" you've heard to substantiate the question. Has there been any particular articles about incidents?
    – Garrett
    Apr 1, 2015 at 7:59
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    I agree with @Garrett and I like the question though. Just because of the number of informal discussions I hear/participate to when practising first-aid with my volunteer fellows.
    – Shlublu
    Apr 1, 2015 at 10:39
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    @Garrett I would be happy to at least attempt to find the information I read :)
    – L.B.
    Apr 2, 2015 at 0:56

1 Answer 1


The only studies I'm aware of come from the Emergency Medicine Journal, but other should exist for sure.

Some say it has drawbacks (discomfort, pressure sore) and that alternatives such as the vacuum mattress should be preferred:

However, according to official guidelines (such as PSE1 and PSE2 that we apply here in France and that follow international guidelines), each tool has its proper use cases. For example (non-exhaustive list):

  • The vacuum mattress is used in case of suspected trauma of the
    • head
    • spine (lying victim)
    • pelvis
    • femur
    • and for multiple traumas.
    • It is carried on a stretcher or a spinal board, once the victim installed.
  • while the spinal board is used for
    • single traumas not listed above and preventing the victime from moving
    • spine trauma of a sitting or standing vitim, in conjunction with other tools
    • drawning
    • carrying the vacuum mattress (see above)
    • a few more cases not listed here.
    • And the spinal board allows doing CPR, while the vacuum mattress doesn't.

Respecting these use cases is the best way to reduce the risk for the victim, according to the professionals who wrote these international guidelines. This may evolve in the future or not, depending on studies and feedback, but currently, this is the standard.

And finally, as the spinal board is used in a context of first-aid, the victim is not immobilized on it for a long time: just the time to provide first aid and to evacuate to the hospital. I have personnaly never seen (nor heard about) any pressure sore or anything like that appearing after a spinal board immobilization. But it is true this board is not comfortable at all (I tried).

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    Understood that it makes CPR easier. The temporary discomfort part I also understand. Thanks :)
    – L.B.
    Apr 2, 2015 at 1:05
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    @L.B. It's more than temporary discomfort. Backboards have been shown to be harmful and there is zero evidence supporting their most common usage as a spinal immobilization device. Fact is, they cause more harm than good. This is why they've been phased out of use in most of the US. I'll try to find the time to write a more up-to-date answer for this.
    – Carey Gregory
    Jul 15, 2016 at 20:02
  • @CareyGregory At the time I asked this question, I think people were just beginning to realize the extent of damage that could be caused by them. Now, at least in my area, they are much more likely to be used to for carrying a patient as opposed to placing them on it for stabilization purposes.
    – L.B.
    Jul 15, 2016 at 20:35

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