Review of Tactical Medical Articles

Here is a link to reviews of tactical medical literature. None are current, but if one is interested in peer-reviewed articles, these are a good start.

Review of the Tactical Medical Literature

By: Tripp Winslow, MD MPH

In the medical literature, there is a paucity of peer-reviewed articles regarding Tactical Emergency Medical Services (TEMS). The majority of TEMS based articles are reviews of extrapolated EMS, Trauma, or Emergency Medicine literature. While these review articles are informative and promote awareness of TEMS as a specialty, it is evident that a greater effort must be made to advance the science and evidence based literature available for use in the field. In this journal scan identifying existing TEMS literature, I have summarized a few review articles and presented several original research papers as well. This review was carried out on PubMed. The bibliographies of all articles were reviewed for additional relevant articles.


Managment of Suspected Spinal Injury In TCCC

A large discrepancy between civilian and military medicine exists with respect to the importance placed upon spinal injury management. In the past, most combat injuries have been secondary to penetrating trauma. Therefore, during the initial phases of treatment, moving the casualty to cover would be the only concern, without taking the time to immobilize c-spine as a civilian medic would. However, new injury patterns are emerging. As Dr. Keith Gates noted in the Spring 2010 issue of The Journal of Special Operations Medicine (JSOM), blunt trauma is emerging more often as an mechanism of injury secondary to the increase in number of IED attacks. According unpublished data, 39% of casualties had mechanism of injuries secondary to blunt trauma. Additionally, according to JSOM, between June and December 2009, of the 119 casualties with blunt force trauma spinal fractures, 14 had spinal cord injuries. Thus, an increasing number of casualties are presenting with thoracic and cervical injuries on the modern battlefield.

This trend has not gone unnoticed. A working group was commissioned to address this issue, out of which a new technique for spinal protection emerged, called Spinal Motion Restriction (SMR). Essentially, the rescuer would use the casualty’s IBA to protect the thoracic spine, while taking care to not unnecessarily manipulating the c-spine during movement. The suggested changes to the TCCC protocol are as follows:

Care Under Fire:
3. Direct casualty to move to cover and apply self-aid if able. If casualty requires assistance, move him to cover. If mechanism of injury included blunt trauma (such as riding in a vehicle which was struck by and Improvised Explosive Device), minimize spinal movement while extracting him from the vehicle and moving him to cover. The casualty should be moved along his long spinal axis if at all possible while attempting to stabilize the head and neck.

Tactical Field Care and TACEVAC Care Insert new #2:
Use Spinal Motion Restriction techniques as defined below for casualties whose mechanism of injury included blunt trauma IF: a) they are unconscious; b) they are conscious and have mid-line cervical spine tenderness or mid-line back pain; or c) they are conscious but demonstrate neurological injury such as inability to move their arms and/or legs, sensory deficits, or parenthesis. For these casualties, leave the IBA in place and secure to protect the thoracic spine. The cervical spine may be protected by using a cervical stabilization device in conjunction with the casualty’s IBA or by an additional first responder holding the casualty’s head to maintain alignment with the back. Long or short spine boards should be used in addition to these measures when available (JSOM, Spring 10, pg. 60).

Unfortunately, initial findings from a pilot study conducted at USAISR found that if one keeps the IBA in place, in a supine position, without the helmet, the c-spine is put in extension. More problems surfaced during later discussions: 1) pouches commonly worn on the IBA could further injuries in the supine position; 2) IBAs obstruct evaluation and treatment, thus they are often removed; 3) SMR may not be protective.

In the end, more research needs to be done in light of the recent trends in wounds. As more soldiers and LEO officers are exposed to blunt trauma, medics need to be conscious of the potentiality injuries secondary to it. While Spinal Motion Restriction is unsatisfactory, it continues the conversation regarding treatment.

What are your thoughts and experiences?

Rhabdomyolysis in the Tactical Enviroment

Rhabdomyolysis (Rhabdo for short) secondary to a combination over exertion and dehydration is gaining attention in exercise circles due to documented cases recently with the increasingly popular high-intensity workout regimens. The threat of Rhabdo is not only confined to the the gym. It ought to be planned for and considered in the tactical environment as well. It is not a concern in the Care Under Fire stage of care, but, as Schwartz, et. al. note in Tactical Emergency Medicine, it ought to be addressed during tactical en route care. In addition to being caused by exertion and dehydration, Rhabdo and the subsequent renal failure my be secondary to a crush injury in the tactical environment. However, this brief essay assumes that crush injuries will tip-off care providers to included Rhabdo in their differential diagnosis. Rhabdo due to exertion may not, however, be as apparent.

Essentially, Rhabdomyolysis is the release of myoglobin into the blood stream, which damages the kidneys in two ways: 1) physically blocking the nerphrons with myoglobin; 2) chemotoxic toxification. While this can only be definitively determined by a lab test at a higher echelon of care, it is beneficial to keep this in mind. For instance, in a disaster situation or MCI, an operator may exert himself and present with acute muscle pain and local edema. It has been shown that the level or exertion required for the Rhabdo is dependent on individual fitness. In fact, as little as 50 sit-ups a day for 5 consecutive days led to a case. Studies of NYC Firemen have shown that there is an inverse relation between risk or Rhabado and fitness level. Therefore, risk is difficult to determine as a group and needs to be considered with patient history in mind.

In addition to exertion, non-exercise risk factors can combine to increase the chance of occurrence. For instance, metabolic myopathies and Malignant Hyperthermia, both of which can be inherited, may increase risk when combined with nominal exertion. Furthermore, viral illness such as Epstien-Barr, herpes simplex, and parainfluenze may increase risks. Finally, the US Army has shown a 200-fold increase in risk in those with sickle cell traits.

While medics in the tactical environment may not have the capabilities to diagnose Rhbado, they can manage it if the patient’s exam leads one to believe it is an issue. However, only 50% of patients present with the classic signs of myalgias, tenderness or swelling of muscles, dark urine. Therefore, if a medic suspects Rhabdo, s/he needs to treat the acute risk of damage to renal tubes. To do so, it is suggested that one needs to use a saline infusion producing an ideal urine output of 200 ml/h. Of course, drugs and buffering with alkalization is optimal, but that is beyond the scope of most medics, and it is probably not needed for support during transport to higher medical care.

The best treatment is, as always, prevention in the tactical environment where resources are precious and limited. Risk ought to be mitigated by ensuring members of your team are in good shape. If they posses any of the listed non-exertional risks, they need to be instructed to use caution when performing tasks and operations.

For more detailed information, see this paper: Rhabdo_Military_Pers.

Chest Decompression for Non-Medics

Chest decompression for non-medics is a sticky subject. Recent observations overseas have seen an increase in improper location medially when inserting the needle. The causes of the high rate of improper placement are difficult to determine (i.e., environment, visibility, etc.) and have led to some medical directors prohibiting the procedure for non-medics within the military and LEO teams. However, the below study illustrates that proper initial training leads to high retention rates, thereby making this a skill that ought to remain at the operator level.

Introduction: Tension pneumothorax is the second leading cause of preventable combat death. Although relatively simple, the management of tension pneumothorax is considered an advanced life support skill set. The purpose of this study was to assess the ability of non-medical law enforcement personnel to learn this skill set and to determine long-term knowledge and skill retention.

Methods: After completing a pre-intervention questionnaire, a total of 22 tactical team operators completed a 90-minute-long training session in recognition and management of tension pneumothorax. Post-intervention testing was performed immediately post-training, and at one- and six-months post-training.

Results: Initial training resulted in a significant increase in knowledge (pre: 1.3 ±1.35, max score 7; post: 6.8 ±0.62, p < 0.0001). Knowledge retention persisted at one- and six-months post-training, without significant decrement. Conclusions: Non-medical law enforcement personnel are capable of learning needle decompression, and retain this knowledge without significant deterioration
for at least six months.

Needle DC for Non-Medics

How to Build a Personal First-Aid Kit

Below is an article from the latest Journal of Special Operations Medicine. It is an even-handed review of considerations when one is building a personal medical kit. It not only applies to SOF Operators, but to patrol officers and SWAT teams as well.

Individual Medical Equipment Part 1

Equipment Considerations: Level 3

We have thus far discussed considerations for packing Level 1 and Level 2 equipment. Remember that Level 1 gear is what you carry on your person (e.g., IFAKs and Med Vests) and Level 2 gear is carried in your first-aid bag. Level 3 gear is generally considered kit stored on your vehicle or supplement packs pre-positioned on resupply platforms. For instance, you might want to store the following on your vehicle:

1) pre-made IV kits
2) hypothermia prevention kits
3) backboards, rigid litters, evacuation prep kits
4) splinting material

With regard to pre-made bundles on resupply vehicles, it is a good idea to meet with helicopter crews that are supporting you, or the QRF, and ask to have numbered pre-made bundles for which you can call. For example,specific hemorrhage control items in a bag they can kick out the door, or a whole pre-packed aid bag. The latter can be be a bad idea, because you could find yourself with extra gear you don’t need and can’t store.

In the end, you must pack for your needs and trust your skills to make due with what you have, lest you find yourself imitating a pack mule.

Needle Decompression Hazards

Historically, tension pneumothax has been the 2nd leading cause of preventable death on the battlefield. Therefore, this is an important skill and is being taught to medics at the lowest level of care. However, as with all procedures, risks are involved. Feedback from the field has indicated that medics are performing this procedure too often and TOO medial, causing multiple complications.

The above video covers the hazards of a needle decompression. Below you will find a brief review of indications, contra-indications, etc. As always, please follow local protocols.

Needle decompression is indicated for the treatment of:
A. Tension pneumothorax and / or
B. Tension hemopneumothorax

A. Chest decompression is indicated in the field only in the face of a life-threatening
tension pneumothorax. In that situation, there are essentially no contraindications since
the only alternative is almost certain death.

A. Blunt force trauma to the chest that ruptures a portion of lung tissue
B. Fractured rib that punctures the lung tissue
C. Spontaneous pneumothorax for no apparent reason
D. Conversion of a simple pneumothorax to a tension pneumothorax by positive pressure
ventilation as with a bag-valve mask device etc.
E. Open pneumothorax that is covered and left unattended developing into a tension

A. Chest pain
B. Severe respiratory distress
C. Tachycardia
D. Hypotension
E. Decreased or absent breath sounds on affected side

A. Cyanosis
B. Distended neck veins
C. Tracheal deviation away from affected side

Pic 3
(Source: Canadian Tactical and Operational Medical Solutions)

A. Creation of pneumothorax where none existed previously
B. Laceration of lung tissue
C. Bleeding from laceration of intercostal blood vessels
D. Severe pain to conscious patient (since this is life-threatening, the procedure must be
continued )
E. Local hematoma
F. Laceration and/or puncture of the heart

Tactical K-9 Care: Part 2

As noted in the Tactical K-9 Care: Part 1, a tactical medic may be the only care provider able to assist a working dog that has been injured. The goal of the following article is introduce medics to common trauma associated with working dogs in a tactical environment. As previously suggested, medics ought to find a veterinarian that has experience with working dogs and work with them to become more familiar with anatomy and what is “normal” for canines, as well as become comfortable working with them.

The following article is from the Journal of Special Operations Medicine, vol. 9, edition 2, pg 14-21.

Care of the Military Working Dog Part 2

Tactical K-9 Care: Part 1

In the tactical environment, a tactical medic may be the only care provider able to assist a working dog that has been injured. The goal of the following article is introduce medics to common problems associated with working dogs in a tactical environment. In addition to this article, medics ought to find a veterinarian that has experience with working dogs and work with them to become more familiar with anatomy and what is “normal” for canines, as well as become comfortable working with them.

The following article is from the Journal of Special Operations Medicine, vol. 7, edition 2, pg 33-47.

Care of the Military Working Dog

Tactical K-9 Care: Part 2 will focus on treatment of trauma.