How to Identify and Protect Cervical Spinal Injuries

SpineBroken bones, deep lacerations, and burns are some of the injuries we all learn to deal with when going through basic first aid classes. All of these injuries can quickly lead to lifelong detriments, if not death. One of the worst injuries, however, that can take a person down a very bad road is damage to the cervical spine. More commonly referred to as C-Spine, the cervical spine is the neck portion of the spinal column. Damaging the spinal cord this high up can lead to paralysis of all four limbs, the inability to breathe, permanent incontinence, and a host of other conditions.

To determine if the C-Spine has been injured, there are two steps to take:

  1. Understand what caused the injury. In Emergency Medicine, we refer to this as the mechanism of injury, or the MOI. Some MOI’s to be wary of are:
    1. A violent car crash
    2. Falling from a height equal to 2.5x the person’s height (two times the person’s height for children)
    3. Falling from any height unguarded, as if falling when unconscious
    4. Any blunt force injury to the head, neck, or back
    5. Any head or neck injury sustained while diving/swimming
  2. Assessment of the injury. This is going to tell you a lot about the injured person.
    1. Look at the head, neck, and back for injuries. Make sure the spine looks straight and in line with no unusual dips or curves.
    2. Feel the spine. Using two or three fingers, “walk” down the spine, feeling each vertebrae, or bump, to make sure there is no pain when you press on them and the make sure what you see as being straight and in line actually is. This should be done from the base of the skull to at least mid-back.
    3. Press on the top of the head. Gentle pressure should be applied that gradually increases. All force should be applied straight down towards the feet. If this causes the injured person increased pain in the neck or back, there are c-spine injuries.

Based on the understanding of the MOI and the assessment of the injured person, you can determine if there is concern for c-spine compromise. If there is, you must take certain steps to protect the spine from further injury.

  • Head PositionLay the person flat on the ground. This is easiest with two or three people.
    • Put the person’s body in a straight line with head facing straight forward. One person now holds the head at its base (by the ears) in a straight line, making sure the neck is in line with the back.
    • On the head person’s count, the additional helpers will roll the person onto their back in one motion and as one unit, keeping the head, neck, and back in a straight line.
    • The head person will continue to hold the head in place until help arrives that can place the person on a back board and deliver them to a medical facility.

If you are working by yourself, you will have to roll the person onto their back, keeping them in as straight of a line as possible while you do it (it won’t be all that straight) and straighten them out once they are fully on their back. After that, then you can hold the head in place.

By adding this information to your mental tool box of emergency medicine, you can save a life or increase the quality of life for a person who had an otherwise bad day.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Seth Belt

Seth grew up in Southern Arizona before joining the U.S. Navy. While serving in the Navy, Seth was an anti-narcotics operator and an anti-submarine operator for 5 years. He was lucky enough to travel to many of the Central and South American countries, as well as visiting many South East Asian nations and islands. One of Seth’s greatest joys from his time in the Navy was teaching new Sailors firearms education and safety. After leaving the Navy in 2010, Seth returned to Arizona and had a rough time learning how to be a civilian again, often working jobs that could barely pay the bills. After going to school, Seth became an Emergency Medical Technician in the Phoenix Valley, where he now lives with his wife and son.His areas of knowledge cover military, firearms, and emergency medicine.
Seth Belt

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