Cervical spine immobilization during extrication of the awake patient: a narrative review

Eur J Emerg Med. 2017 Jun;24(3):158-161. doi: 10.1097/MEJ.0000000000000424.


Techniques for extricating vehicle occupants after road-traffic collisions have evolved largely through fear of worsening a cervical spine injury, rather than being evidence-based. Recent research has looked at the safety of allowing the alert patient to self-extricate, rather than being assisted with equipment such as long spinal boards and semirigid cervical collars. This review aims to elucidate whether it is safe to allow an alert, ambulant patient to self-extricate from a vehicle with minimal or no cervical spine immobilization. A literature search was conducted looking for papers that discussed cervical spine motion during extrication from a vehicle. Five papers were yielded, and their methodology, results and limitations were assessed. Motion capture studies suggest that a patient who is allowed to self-extricate from a vehicle will move their cervical spine no more than a patient who is extricated by traditional methods, and may move their neck up to four times less. Furthermore, an alert patient with a neck injury will demonstrate a self-protection mechanism, ensuring injuries are not worsened. Evidence is now building that self-extrication in alert patients with minimal or no cervical spine immobilization is safe. Self-extrication should become more commonplace, conferring not only a potential safety benefit but also advantages in time to definitive care and resource use.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic*
  • Cervical Vertebrae / injuries*
  • Humans
  • Immobilization / methods*
  • Motor Vehicles
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / therapy*