Airway management in patients with suspected or confirmed cervical spine injury: Guidelines from the Difficult Airway Society (DAS), Association of Anaesthetists (AoA), British Society of Orthopaedic Anaesthetists (BSOA), Intensive Care Society (ICS), Neuro Anaesthesia and Critical Care Society (NACCS), Faculty of Prehospital Care and Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM)

Anaesthesia. 2024 May 3. doi: 10.1111/anae.16290. Online ahead of print.


Background: There are concerns that airway management in patients with suspected or confirmed cervical spine injury may exacerbate an existing neurological deficit, cause a new spinal cord injury or be hazardous due to precautions to avoid neurological injury. However, there are no evidence-based guidelines for practicing clinicians to support safe and effective airway management in this setting.

Methods: An expert multidisciplinary, multi-society working party conducted a systematic review of contemporary literature (January 2012-June 2022), followed by a three-round Delphi process to produce guidelines to improve airway management for patients with suspected or confirmed cervical spine injury.

Results: We included 67 articles in the systematic review, and successfully agreed 23 recommendations. Evidence supporting recommendations was generally modest, and only one moderate and two strong recommendations were made. Overall, recommendations highlight key principles and techniques for pre-oxygenation and facemask ventilation; supraglottic airway device use; tracheal intubation; adjuncts during tracheal intubation; cricoid force and external laryngeal manipulation; emergency front-of-neck airway access; awake tracheal intubation; and cervical spine immobilisation. We also signpost to recommendations on pre-hospital care, military settings and principles in human factors.

Conclusions: It is hoped that the pragmatic approach to airway management made within these guidelines will improve the safety and efficacy of airway management in adult patients with suspected or confirmed cervical spine injury.

Keywords: airway management; cervical spinal injury; intubation; spinal cord injury; trauma.