Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Slishman Femur Traction Splint

Every one in a while, an inventor comes up with something remarkable, not only in its ingenuity, but in its simplicity and applicability. Whenever I see something like that, I usually mutter or marvel, "I wish I had thought of that." Such is the case with the original ski pole Slishman Splint, invented by my friend Dr. Sam Slishman.

Wilderness medical types are familiar with the difficulties managing long bone fractures in the backcountry. A femur fracture can be a devastating, and even life-threatening, injury. It's common knowledge that realigning the bony fragments and stabilizing the femur are important to control blood loss and pain, and to facilitate victim extrication and transport. There are numerous traction splints for this purpose on the market, but many of them are heavy, bulky and unwieldy in a remote setting. Sam intended to solve that problem.

During his emergency medicine residency, Sam Slishman invented a splint by adding a pulley system to a collapsible ski pole. The most recent addition (shown in the picture), which is a splint designed for EMS purposes, is also a treasure for wilderness medicine. It is incredibly lightweight (advertised to be less than 400 grams) and easy to apply to a victim. The device is compact to carry, and doesn't take up much more room, really, than a fly fishing rod case. Because traction is applied from the thigh, rather than from the foot/ankle (as is the case with most femur traction splints), the splint fits well into a Stoke's basket, ambulance, or helicopter. Because it doesn't interfere with access to the foot and ankle, one may pull traction from below as well, should such be necessary.

The original ski pole version is a masterpiece as well. It is as easy to apply as any femur traction splint I have used, and truly allows one to have ski poles that double as durable medical equipment.

Dr. Slishman assures me that the splints are manufactured to be very sturdy, and in applying them to a few individuals, I would concur. Sam has experimented with various ways to deploy the ski pole splint for uses other than for femoral traction, and has recommendations for its application to manage dislocated shoulders, for instance. If you are a person responsible for delivering care in remote settings, and the ability to manage a femur fracture is part of your agenda, then you should definitely check out the Slishman Splints.

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.