Why cricoid pressure doesn’t work (probably)

by Josh Holden FACEM CCPU

Ever wondered why we don’t use cricoid pressure in ED? After all, compressing the oesophagus between the larynx and C5 vertebral body should stop any breakfast from coming up the wrong way quite nicely?


Check out the ultrasound video below to see the whereabouts of Jonathon Au’s foodpipe, and what might happen (other than ruining your intubation view) if you give his larynx a choke hold:

As you can see his oesophagus lies lateral to the trachea, not below it as commonly assumed. 


This seems to be completely normal. Dynamic MRI studies demonstrate that application of pressure to the cricoid cartilage displaces the oesophagus laterally instead of occluding it (Smith 2003Boet 2012). An ultrasound study demonstrated similar findings: in 60% of patients the oesophagus was lateral to the airway and cricoid pressure led to displacement rather than occlusion in all patients. (Tsung 2012). Old news then…

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Posted in Ultrasound, Uncategorized

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