— Good Thinking
Students are creating a better, safer cervical collar
A team of engineering students are designing a new type of cervical collar, that reportedly works better and is safer than traditional models
When a person injures the region of their spine immediately below their skull, emergency medical technicians apply what is known as a cervical collar. The devices first saw use in the Vietnam War, where medics needed a quick and simple system that could be used to immobilize the heads and necks of injured soldiers. In the years since, however, some studies have suggested that by pushing the head up and away from the body, the collars may cause the vertebrae to separate – actually making some spinal injuries worse. Fortunately, a team of six undergraduate engineering students from Houston’s Rice University are now developing a new type of cervical collar, that keeps the head still in a safer fashion.
The prototype plastic-and-foam device, known as the HeadCase, cradles the patient’s chin and the sides of their head, while also pressing against their upper chest and back via a strap that runs under their arms – unlike a traditional cervical collar, it doesn’t even touch their neck. According to Kelsey Horter, a bioengineering student who is also an emergency medical technician, this is an ideal set-up.
“As EMTs, we’re taught that if the knee is hurt, you stabilize above and below it,” she said. “You never just stabilize the part that’s injured – which is exactly what we think the current cervical collar does. We jumped on the premise that if we could stabilize the head and the torso right beneath the neck, then we could stabilize the neck. That’s what our device does.”
In tests of both the HeadCase and traditional collars, the new device was found to provide more immobilization, while not stretching the neck. It was also found to be much more comfortable to wear.
Even if it does work better, however, it still might never come into common use if it isn’t practical. To that end, it is designed to be easy to use, and inexpensive. It packs flat for transport, can be applied within 60 seconds, and should cost less per unit than the US$15 or so that conventional collars go for. Like those collars, the HeadCase would be disposable.
The project was inspired by the research of John Hipp, former director of the Spine Research Laboratory at Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine. He has long maintained that conventional cervical collars need to be improved, and approached Rice about putting the challenge to its engineering students.
More information on HeadCase is available in the video below.
Source: Rice University
About the Author
An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.
All articles by Ben Coxworth
very cool! I've had the misfortune to be in a C-collar and OMG that thing was uncomfortable. Here's hoping this is better and gets adopted!
I never liked the looks of the cervical collar I'm glad that somebody is looking at improving it. I have suggested using using the plaster and fabric that they used for casts and aluminum bars.
The OLD design of the C collar is piss poor at best and dangerous too.
I never liked wearing them, all they did was give me migraines and bad neck aches.
The standard collar as presently used is dangerous as it takes no account of any kyphosis that may exist. Any patient with kyphosis would not be able to support the old type collars whereas this new one looks like it might work. Needs to be trialed on say a person suffering from ankylosing spondylitis who has the typical upper thoracic and cervical deformity. IF the new collar could be used without danger of fracture to such necks then press ahead for world-wide use. But does need to be trialed on those with specific cervical problems.
Try using Solidworks CAD by Dassault Systemes which can simulate stress forces.
It would appear that a similar invention could help low back pain sufferers. Many times the lower back has seriously deteriorated, hip and disc areas are also affected and a device that lifts the pressure off of (partially or fully) these areas might help relieve the pain (especially where upper body forces press on nerves in the lower back) and allow these areas time to heal or reinforce.
It looks complicated. It's hard to believe it would be cheaper than current models.
Just preventing one person from becoming a quadriplegic will save more money than the additional cost for hundreds of millions of the new collars.
One problem with this design is that it appears to be hard to apply to a prone patient which may be the position of most requiring application of a celvical collar. The video shows a great deal of movement of the patient's head during application which should not happen. Also, it would be difficult for a first responder who is initially supplying head immobilization to get their hands out of the way when this collar is applied to the patient. Address these real problems and the designers may come up with a usable improvement.
I agree with Rohn. Watching the video and seeing the application isn't practical for pre-hospital care (EMS). To a supine patient, it would be difficult to apply due to the straps that go around the arms and the size of the back part of the c-collar having to be slid behind the patient. For head trauma patients that are actively bleeding, this device would make it difficult once applied to provide bleeding control to the sides and back of the head. I've noticed in providing care that the head is pushed away from the body often times because c-collar's aren't properly fitted to the patient. This can cause more damage to a cervical spine. I would like to see a mix between the old c-collar and this one being developed. The wing-nut sliding part is a good idea. If current c-collars could be placed around the neck and have the chin strap slide into place and tightened, this would create a custom fit without pushing the head. Glad to see people are out there trying to make things better though. Keep up the good work!
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