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Improvised Spinal Immobilization

Spinal injuries are a huge fear when out in the wilderness. There literally isn’t anything much worse than dealing with this type of injury. The last two episodes I quickly discussed several ways to immobilize the spine and extract the injured person. There are two types of immobilization systems. First, the short-board immobilization system, which would be used to quickly extract someone to a safer area for better treatment, or to develop a better system to extract further. Second, the long-board immobilization system, which is used for more extensive transport.

The improvised short-board immobilizer can be made using several items you may already have on you. One type is made using the internal frame of a hiking backpack. The victims head can be stabilized using a snow shovel, with the handle running parallel with the spine, and the base of the skull sitting in the shovel. The backpack frame is placed behind the victim and the straps of the backpack are then used to secure the victim in place. Alternatively, the pack can be inverted and the padded hip belt used as the head bed, and the waist band can be used to strap the victims head to the pack. As this may be too large in diameter to secure the head, sleeping pad foam or wrapped water bottles can be placed at each side of the patient’s head to stabilize and reduce the circumference of the strap. Snowshoes can also be used as a backboard, then using rope or other straps, the victims head and spine can be secured to the improvised board. The short board system is again for quick, short distance extraction.

If you happen to be in a much more remote location and extraction will be longer or indefinite, a long-board immobilization system needs to be developed. Improvised long-boards can be made using a variety of items such as a Kayak, a Canoe and/or any type of stiffener (ski poles, backpack frame, snowshoes, or canoe paddles). The most recommended system is the continuous loop system (also known as the mummy litter, or cocoon wrap) as it is the only system adequate for immobilizing and transporting a victim with a spine injury. The following items are needed to make such a system:

  1. Long climbing rope

  2. Tarp or tent

  3. Sleeping pads or similar for padding

  4. Stiffeners as noted above

The process of making this system is quite detailed and complex. I felt the very best way to demonstrate creating this system would be through a video. I recommend watching it as it is an excellent demonstration in making the continuous loop system of long-board immobilization.

Thanks again for reading and listening. Catch us weekly for more tips.

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