Spine Immobilization Leads to 15 Extra Deaths Per Every 1,000 Shooting or Stabbing Victims

Immobilizing the Spine vs. Rushing Patients to Hospital Could Mean Difference in Life or Death, Study Adds

Immobilizing the spine of shooting and stabbing victims may double the risk of mortality when compared to avoiding these time-consuming activities and immediately taking such patients to trauma centers for treatment, according to a new study in the January issue of The Journal of Trauma.

Many states encourage that gunshot and stab wound victims be stabilized with cervical collars and secured to boards prior to transportation to the hospital, a practice that researchers say may be more harmful than beneficial for patients least injured by such penetrating trauma.

Hypothesizing that mortality is higher in penetrating trauma patients whose spines were immobilized than in patients who were not immobilized prior to hospitalization, researchers at John Hopkins University examined the records of 45,284 patients who were listed in the National Trauma Data Bank from 2001 to 2004.

According to the study’s findings, 4.3% of the penetrating trauma victims (roughly 1,947 patients) underwent spine immobilization, even though the benefits of immobilizing the spine were only 1 in 1,000.

While overall mortality was 8.1% (roughly 3,668 patients), deaths were twice as high for immobilized patients (14.7%) compared to patients who weren’t immobilized (7.2%).

Based on these findings, researchers suggest that spine immobilization before hospitalization not be routinely used for every patient with penetrating trauma from gunshot or stab wounds, especially when such activities may delay treatments for what are typically life-threatening injuries.

Researchers did note that spine immobilization has been proven beneficial in saving lives and reducing disabilities following injuries from car accidents and similar events, and should thus be continued in these cases.

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