Multicenter prospective validation of prehospital clinical spinal clearance criteria

J Trauma. 2002 Oct;53(4):744-50. doi: 10.1097/00005373-200210000-00021.


Background: Spine immobilization is one of the most frequently performed prehospital procedures. If trauma patients without significant risk for spine injury complications can be identified, spine immobilization could be selectively performed. The purpose of this study was to evaluate five prehospital clinical criteria-altered mental status, neurologic deficit, spine pain or tenderness, evidence of intoxication, or suspected extremity fracture-the absence of which identify prehospital trauma patients without a significant spine injury.

Methods: Prospectively collected emergency medical services data items included the above-listed criteria. Outcome data include spine fracture or cord injury, and also the level and management of injuries.

Results: A total of 295 patients with spine injuries were present in 8,975 (3.3%) cases. Spine injury was identified by the prehospital criteria in 280 of 295 (94.9%) injured patients. The criteria missed 15 patients. Thirteen of 15 had stable injuries, the majority of which were stable compression or vertebral process injuries. The remaining two would have been captured by more accurate prehospital evaluation.

Conclusion: Absence of the study criteria may form the basis of a prehospital protocol that could be used to identify trauma patients who may safely have rigid spine immobilization withheld. Evaluation of such a protocol in practice should be performed.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Ambulances
  • Emergency Medical Services*
  • Emergency Medical Technicians
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immobilization
  • Male
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / complications
  • Spinal Injuries / complications
  • Spinal Injuries / diagnosis*
  • Spinal Injuries / therapy