Responders use splints for sprains, strains, and broken bones. Learning the principles behind caring for a musculoskeletal (bones and muscle) injury will help improve your confidence during an emergency. This article will talk about different types of splints, how to use them, and which are best for your trauma kit.
There are splints for just about every bone and joint in the body. There are splints for the neck, the back, the shoulders, legs, knees, ankles (and all the others!). Splints are a great thing to carry in a first aid kit, as they can reduce internal bleeding and damage and help someone be more comfortable while traveling to a hospital.
This article will talk about some of the common splints used by paramedics and EMTs. We'll also highlight splints that are easy to carry in a first aid kit. Finally, we'll cover several steps for treating sprains and breaks.
Time to splint!
Common Splints for First Aid Care
Let's talk about some of the most common splints used in first aid care. Breaks, sprains, strains, and dislocations are all splinted from time to time. For splinting to be effective, responders must use the right splint. Otherwise, the patient could suffer undue pain or further damage.
Here are some of the most common splints for first aid:
- Arm slings
- Traction splints
- Cervical collars
- Pelvic Splints
- Moldable splints
- Improvised Splints
Let's look at these in more depth.
Splints: Arm Sling
Arms slings are some of the more common forms of splints. These slings are often made from a triangular bandage. However, if someone must wear a sling for a long time, they usually have one specially made.
What does a sling do? It supports the major joints of the arm, including the shoulder, the elbow, and the wrist - this allows the arm to remain at rest while it heals.
Civilians don't commonly carry traction splints; however, all ambulances should have them. The traction splint comes in several forms, but they all do the same thing: they provide traction to an injured leg, usually for a break in the middle of the femur (the long upper leg bone).
Tractions splints do a great job of reducing pain and preventing further injury. One reason civilians don't often use them is that femur fractures require a careful diagnosis. Otherwise, the leg could be injured. Also, they require the patient to extend the leg, which is difficult without an ambulance.
Neck Splint: Cervical Collars
Cervical collars are used for suspected injury to the spine, particularly the cervical spine - the bones in the neck. Cervical collars help hold the head perfectly still, ensuring no further damage to the neck.
Civilians sometimes carry cervical collar splints, but again, care must be taken when they're applied.
Pelvic Splints (Pelvic Binders)
The pelvis can sustain fractures. When it does, it often results in serious internal bleeding. A pelvic splint, also called a pelvic binder, is wrapped around the waist (similar to a belt, but lower) and then tightened to hold the fractured pelvis together.
Alright, now let's talk about moldable splints.
Moldable splints (with brand names like "SAM" or "Actisplint") are super. These splints have a bendable metal core covered in foam. With a little practice, responders can learn how to mold these splints to support nearly every joint.
However, when I've seen them used in the field, they are most helpful for injuries to the forearm, hand, and wrist.
There are also especially small moldable splints made for the fingers, and these are easily packable and useful.
Moldable splints are a more modern version of good old-fashioned improvised splints - let's talk about these in the next section!
If you don't have a formally made splint, there are plenty of ways to improvise them. Yes, you might not get the most consistent results from improvised splints, but they will get you by until you can find something more permanent.
What do you use to improvise a splint?
Almost anything. You can use a shirt to make a sling, a stick to make a long bone splint, and a pillow works great for splinting ankles, knees, or elbows. There are plenty of videos out there if you'd like to learn more about improvised splints.
Now, let's talk about the best splints for your vehicle or family first aid kit.
Best Splints for Your First Aid Kit
For an off-duty first aid kit, it can be difficult to pack a bunch of large splints into a small or medium-sized bag. Thankfully, there are some clever ways around this.
Here are the best and easiest splints to carry in your first aid kit:
Let's look at these in more depth.
The RISE Splint
This is an intuitive splint that folds down small and can be used to splint just about any joint! You can even pair this splint with a tourniquet and use it as a pelvic binder.
If you're curious, you can watch this video showing how to use the RISE splint.
The Molded Splint
As we discuss, moldable splints are easy to store. Some fold down, and others roll into a tight ball. Either way, they're both great for carrying the med kit.
Also, you can carry small moldable splints for fingers. However, you can also use trauma shears to cut the larger splints down smaller. Just be careful about sharp edges!
The Triangular Bandage (Sling)
If rolled gauze and a tourniquet are the go-to's for the bleeding control world, then the triangular bandage and the RISE splint are the go-to for the splinting world. You can do just about anything with a triangular bandage! You can use them for improvised tourniquets; you can use them for slings, pressure bandages, or cravats.
On top of that, they're cheap, light, and super easy to pack. There's no reason not to carry a couple triangular bandages!
Now, let's talk about a few tips for treating sprains and broken bones.
How to Splint: First Aid for Sprains, Strains, and Broken Bones
Sprains and broken bones are serious injuries. They can cause serious pain and long-term problems. For this reason, it's smart to proceed with caution. This section will talk about a few steps to treating breaks and strains.
First aid steps for splinting arms and legs:
Call for help if it's serious. If there's a serious injury, it's best to get help on the way. Call 911 if needed and have someone stay with the patient.
Address any major bleeds. Sometimes, fractures can pierce the skin and cause bleeding - this takes the first priority. Even though it will be painful, ensure you stop the bleed.
Position of comfort. Allow the patient to maintain a position of most comfort. If the bones are misaligned, it's best to avoid any dangerous manipulation of the limb if you're not specially trained.
Splint above and below the joint/break. The splint should immobilize the joints above and below a break and the bones above and below a sprain.
Pad the splint. Use some soft material to create padding around the splint - regardless of the type. This will make it more comfortable and more effective, as the padding will help the splint form to the area.
Check pulses and feeling. Sometimes, the blood supply to areas beyond the break is affected. This is dangerous. Check the patient's feeling in hands and feet and check pulses. Check before and after splinting!
Use the RICE method. This stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. The RICE method is for sprains and strains, not necessarily breaks, though you can still apply ice to a break if it comforts the patient.
Let it heal. Some people start jumping around before they're ready - this risks further injury. And the next injury might be even more serious. Take some time to heal!
Here's a video showing how to splint an ankle if you're curious. Now, let's go over our last takeaway on splints.
Key Takeaway on Splints for First Aid Kits
If used right, a good splint can provide comfort and healing to a broken bone or a sprained ankle. Some people might think they cannot carry splints in their first aid kit. However, with new technology and smaller splints, it's easy to carry them with you. Also, if you know how to improvise, you can make a splint from T-shirts, pillows, and even magazines and newspapers (wrists).
The best splints for EDC carry in an IFAK would be the moldable splints, the RISE splints by TacMed, and the good old-fashioned triangular bandages. If you're trained, you could carry larger splints in your vehicle.
The key is to get trained. Take a CPR and first aid class. Learn about bleeding control, airway management, and CPR. Emergency medicine and first aid aren't easy - getting skilled requires dedication and constant vigilance.