Introduction: Many emergency medical services (EMS) agencies have de-emphasized or eliminated the use of long spinal boards (LSB) for patients with possible spinal injury. We sought to determine if implementation of spinal motion restriction (SMR) protocols, which reduce LSB use, was associated with an increase in spinal cord injury (SCI). Methods: This retrospective observational study includes EMS encounters from January 1, 2013 to December 31, 2015 submitted by SMR-adopting ground-based agencies to a state EMS database with hospital discharge data. Encounters were excluded if SMR implementation date was unknown, occurred during a 3-month run-in period, or were duplicates. Study samples include patients with traumatic injury (TI), possible spinal trauma (P-ST), and verified spinal trauma (V-ST) using hospital discharge ICD-9/10 diagnosis codes. The incidence of SCI before and after implementation of SMR was compared using Chi-squared and logistic regression. Results: From 1,005,978 linked encounters, 104,315 unique encounters with traumatic injury and known SMR implementation date were identified with 51,199 cases of P-ST and 5,178 V-ST cases. The incidence of SCI in the pre-SMR and post-SMR interval for each group was: TI, 0.20% vs. 0.22% (p = 0.390); P-ST, 0.40% vs. 0.45% (p = 0.436); and V-ST, 4.04% vs. 4.37% (p = 0.561). Age and injury severity adjusted odds ratio of SCI in the highest risk cohort of patients with V-ST was 1.097 after SMR implementation (95% CI 0.818-1.472). Conclusion: In this limited study, no change in the incidence of SCI was identified following implementation of SMR protocols. Prospective evaluation of this question is necessary to evaluate the safety of SMR protocols.
Keywords: emergency medical services; long spinal board; spinal cord injury; spinal immobilization; spinal motion restriction.