Austere Fasciotomy: Alternative Equipment for Performance in the Field


DeSoucy ES, Hewitt CW, Bolleter S 22(1). 81 - 86 (Journal Article)

Background: Acute compartment syndrome (ACS) following extremity trauma requires rapid fasciotomy to avoid significant morbidity and limb loss. Four-compartment fasciotomy of the leg is a surgical procedure typically performed in the operating room; however, casualties who cannot be rapidly transported may need fasciotomies in the prehospital setting. In the absence of traditional operating instruments (e.g., scalpel, long Metzenbaum scissors, electrocautery), alternative means of fasciotomy may be needed. We undertook a proof-of-concept study using cadaver models to determine whether leg fasciotomies could be performed with alternative devices compared with the surgical standard. Methods: Two-incision, four-compartment fasciotomies were performed on fresh, never-frozen, non-embalmed cadaver legs using a scalpel for the initial skin incision, followed by release of the fascia using one of the following instruments: 5.5-in curved Mayo scissors; Benchmade rescue hook (model BM-5BLKW); rescue hook on the Leatherman Raptor multitool (model 831741-FFP); Leatherman Z-Rex multitool rescue hook (model LM93408); or No. 10 PenBlade (model PB-M-10- CAS). The procedures were performed by a surgeon. Skin and fascia incisional lengths were recorded along with a subjective impression of the performance for each device. Post-procedural dissection was performed to identify associated injuries to the muscle, superficial peroneal nerve, and the greater saphenous vein (GSV). Results: All devices were able to adequately release the fascia in all four compartments. All rescue hooks (Benchmade, Raptor, and Z-Rex) required a "pull technique" and a skin incision of equal length to the fascia incision. The PenBlade was used in a "push technique," similar to the standard scissor fasciotomy through a smaller skin incision. There was one superficial peroneal nerve transection with the rescue hooks, but there were no GSV injuries or significant muscle damage with any instrument. Conclusion: Four-compartment fasciotomy can be performed with readily available alternative equipment such as rescue hooks and the PenBlade. Hook-type devices require longer skin incisions compared with scissors and the PenBlade. In contested environments, patients with ACS may require fasciotomy prior to evacuation to surgical teams; training combat medics in the use of these alternative instruments in the field may preserve life and limb.

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