Expert not happy with cricoid

Evidence-based medicine reminds us to beware ‘experts’. However, here’s one self-described expert who talks some sense. Doctor (Doktor?) HJ Priebe from the University Hospital Freiburg in Germany suggests the risk of harm outweighs the risk of benefit from this procedure:

Despite the lack of evidence for its effectiveness and evidence for numerous deleterious effects, cricoid pressure is still considered a standard of care during rapid sequence induction, and its application is considered mandatory in patients at high risk for gastric regurgitation. However, by using cricoid pressure, we may well be endangering more lives by causing airway problems than we are saving in the hope of preventing pulmonary aspiration. It is dangerous to consider cricoid pressure to be an effective and reliable measure in reducing the risk of pulmonary aspiration and to become complacent about the many factors that contribute to regurgitation and aspiration. Cricoid pressure is not a substitute for optimal patient preparation. Ensuring optimal positioning and a rapid onset of anesthesia and muscle relaxation to decrease the risk of coughing, straining or retching during the induction of anesthesia are likely more important in the prevention of pulmonary aspiration than cricoid pressure.


‘At the time of Sellick’s description of the technique of cricoid pressure, morbidity and mortality from pulmonary aspiration during the induction of anesthesia in the surgical population in general, and the obstetric population in particular, were of great concern. At that time, the concept of cricoid pressure was highly attractive. However, during the past 48 years, many aspects of anesthetic management have considerably changed, and knowledge has advanced. By today’s standards, cricoid pressure can no longer be considered an evidence-based practice. This is why more and more anesthetists (including myself) no longer apply cricoid pressure.

Vielen Dank, Herr Doktor!

Cricoid pressure: an expert’s opinion
Minerva Anestesiol 2009;75:710-4 – Full text

Just as well really, because these guys show many people don’t know how to do it anyway! Cases were identified in which pressure was mistakenly applied to the thyroid cartilage and even the sternocleidomastoid muscles!
Variable application and misapplication of cricoid pressure
J Trauma. 2010 Nov;69(5):1182-4