Background: Austere fracture immobilization equipment and techniques are often overlooked, with few studies critically evaluating the process. The purpose of this study was to evaluate current austere splinting techniques and equipment used for lower extremity fractures while field testing a new 1-step spray-on foam splint.
Methods: This is a prospective analysis of austere splinting techniques. A cadaveric model with a distal third tibia-fibula fracture was used for testing. The specimens were placed in an austere environment and participants immobilized the injury with standard equipment (structural aluminum malleable [SAM] splint, 6-in. ACE wrap) while being critically evaluated. The specimens were also immobilized with a 1-step in-situ foam splint.
Results: Twenty-one military Special Operations medical personnel participated. Each participant was observed and scored by a single orthopedic foot and ankle surgeon using a Likert scale based on 10 splinting criteria. Standard splinting resulted in an average score of 32.2 (range, 5-50), with significant deficiencies in fracture traction (1/5), fracture motion (2.9/5), protection of neurovascular structures (3/5), and soft tissue manipulation (3/5). The average time to completion was 203 seconds, with 1 splint failure. The spray-on foam splinting technique yielded a significantly higher score of 48.5 while completing the task significantly faster (68 seconds), with no failures.
Conclusion: Special Operations medical personnel demonstrated success in immobilizing a complex fracture with standard techniques in a cadaveric model. However, testing demonstrated the inherent inability of the SAM splint to provide longitudinal traction while simultaneously allowing excessive fracture motion and potential injury to the soft tissues. In comparison, our spray-on foam proof of concept technique eliminated motion by allowing an in situ application with adequate rigidity.
Clinical Relevance: This experiment included a likert scale to critically evaluate splinting techniques and equipment. It reliably tested standard splinting equipment and a 1-step in-situ foam splint for distal third tibia-fibula fractures.
Martin, Kevin; McBride, Trevor; Unangst, Alicia; and Chisholm, Jaime, "Prospective Study of Military Special Operations Medical Personnel and Lower Extremity Fracture Immobilization in an Austere Environment" (2020). Department of Orthopaedic Surgery Faculty Papers. Paper 165.
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