In this randomized, controlled, cross-over study, we measured the pressures exerted by the standard laryngeal mask airway (LMA) and the intubating laryngeal mask airway (ILM) against the cervical vertebrae during insertion, intubation, and maneuvers commonly used to facilitate intubation. We also assessed the effect of these pressures on cervical spine (C-spine) movement. Twenty cadavers (6-24 h postmortem) without cervical abnormality were initially studied. Three microchip pressure sensors were implanted into the pharyngeal surface of C2-3. The size 5 ILM and LMA were inserted in random order into each cadaver with the head-neck in the neutral position. Maximal cervical pressures (CPmax) were recorded for both devices during cuff inflation from 0-40 mL and with the intracuff pressure (ICP) at 60 cm H2O, insertion, fiberscope-guided intubation, partial withdrawal/reinsertion (ILM only), elevation/depression of the handle with 20 N of force applied (ILM only). In five additional matched cadavers, the effect of pressure on posterior displacement of C3 was assessed, and CPmax was measured during laryngoscope- and fiberscope-guided oro/nasotracheal intubation (controls). CPmax was higher for the ILM than the LMA over the inflation range (96 vs 15 cm H2O; P < 0.0001) and with the ICP at 60 cm H2O (95 vs 10 cm H2O; P < 0.0001). During cuff inflation, CPmax was generally unchanged for the ILM but was always increased for the LMA. CPmax for the LMA and ILM was similar during insertion (224 vs 273 cm H2O) but higher for the ILM during fiberscope-guided intubation (96 vs 43 cm H2O; P < 0.0001). At 60 cm H2O ICP, CPmax increased during LMA (224 cm H2O; P < 0.0001) and ILM insertion (273 cm H2O; P < 0.0001) and increased for the LMA (43 cm H2O; P < 0.0001) but was unchanged for the ILM (96 cm H2O) during fiberscope-guided intubation. For the ILM, CP-max increased during handle depression (394 cm H2O; P < 0.0001) and partial withdrawal/reinsertion (265 cm H2O; P < 0.0001) but decreased during handle elevation (6 cm H2O; P < 0.00001). CPmax for the controls was usually zero and was always less than the LMA/ ILM (P < 0.0001). The mean (range) for posterior displacement of C3 was 0.8 (0-2) mm at 100 cm H2O and 2.8 (1-5) mm at 400 cm H2O. Laryngeal mask devices exert greater pressures against the cervical vertebrae than established intubation techniques and can produce posterior displacement of the C-spine.
Implications: Laryngeal mask devices exert greater pressures against the cervical vertebrae than established intubation techniques and can produce posterior displacement of the cervical spine. We recommend that laryngeal mask devices only be used in the unstable cervical spine if difficulties are anticipated or encountered with established techniques, pending the results of studies demonstrating its relative safety.