Handling Stretchers for Patients

You may have regularly seen them used, but today it is time to cover how they are put into practice. This article takes a look at handling stretchers for patients, and everything you need to know!

What are the types of stretchers for patients?

Short answer: the main types of stretchers include wheeled, basket, spine board, stair chair, ambulance/medical, portable and scoop stretchers.

  • Stretchers are used in a variety of medical and first aid scenarios to transport casualties or patients gently and safely.
  • Their purpose is to transport those that may not be moved easily due to immobility/injury.
  • The most common uses include transportation during injury or after an incident, or to/from hospital to receive medical care.

Uses of Stretchers

Certain first aid or medical situations require careful and easy movement of patients/casualties to or from a desired location (such as to the ER).

In times that it is necessary to transport a patient from a location to a medical/adequate setting where they can be treated, a stretcher serves this purpose well.

It is not an easy task to remove a delicate or injured person, both for the victim and the helper.

A stretcher is equipped with features that make this a much safer and easier task.

Let’s cover some of their primary uses:

What are some uses of stretchers?

  • Moving a patient in and out of hospital, such as in an emergency/medical setting
  • Patients may not be able to be easily transported, so a stretcher allows movement of an injured individual.

  • Moving a casualty out of an unsafe location to a safer one
  • Depending on where the incident has occurred, it may firstly be necessary to re- locate the person to a place that doesn’t present any further danger.

    A stretcher allows them to be shifted to then receive or wait for medical help.

    (An example of this would be an accident/dangerous setting.)

  • Moving a person from one place to another who is incapacitated or unable to move themselves (shifting/relocation)
  • Even in a non-emergency setting, some patients are unable to be moved without a stretcher: e.g broken limbs, so on and so forth.

    They may assist with loading/transport, such as to a medical transport vehicle for instance.

  • Allows patients to be transported in a steady, safe manner that does not create further trauma
  • The important function of a stretcher is that it allows prevention of further injury - and is optimal over say, carrying an injured person manually.

So generally, in whatever setting they are harnessed a stretcher will provide a safer movement method.

What Kind of Patients are Stretchers Used For?

As we touched on above, stretchers are specifically designed to support movement of patients who are either injured/incapacitated or require careful movement for any reason.

This can be due to numerous factors, such as:

  • Being unable to move or needing to be relocated
  • Being too difficult/unsafe to carry 
  • Needing to be moved in a careful manner (e.g badly injured)
  • Needing transport to medical care promptly.

Some examples of patients that may require a stretcher include:

  • Patients who have sustained a spinal cord injury (e.g had a fall, trauma or injury that requires careful movement or causes movement inability)
  • Patients unable to sit upright
  • Injured patients (bleeding, unconsciousness, wounded etc) 
  • Patients that require a stretcher while being transported to hospital or another medical facility

In general, a stretcher will typically be used for a patient who has experienced either an injury or a medical episode.

However, sometimes they are also used in other contexts for situations that aren’t emergencies.

For example:

  • Personal use for patients that require movement at home from one room to another
  • Disabled/special needs individuals.

How to Carry a Patient on a Stretcher

Let’s take a look at some of the main different types of stretchers. 

Note also that within each form of stretcher, there can be many different features, types or models of the specific stretcher.

Types of stretchers:

  • Wheeled stretchers
  • Wheeled stretchers help provide fast, easy movement due to their wheels - often to an ambulance or hospital. 

    They are good for loading patients into the vehicle. 

    These stretchers also serve to carry other forms of stretchers (like portable/spine boards).

  • Basket stretcher
  • Basket stretchers are made of sturdy materials, with loops/handles built in. 

    They can be used in many applications, including difficult situations that require a tough stretcher.

  • Spine board
  • A spine/backboard is designed to help the patient maintain a strict, aligned and rigid position while they are being moved.

    They may be used for spinal and limb injuries in which this is important. This includes helping transport patients onto an ambulance stretcher.

    Spine boards are slim and flat.

  • Portable stretchers (also may be known as foldable/folding stretcher)
  • A portable stretcher is lighter and foldable/collapsible.

    It is a flat stretcher with handles to help carry the patient. 

    These can also be handy for narrow areas.

  • Stair chair stretchers
  • The stair chair allows movement in a seated position and can be good for narrow places (like stairways) where a traditional stretcher is difficult to manoeuvre.

  • Scoop stretcher
  • A scoop stretcher is made of a firm material and is able to be split in two to scoop the patient up (hence the name). 

    This is done from each side of their body - forming a scoop. 

    They are suitable for easy movement without lifting.

  • Ambulance and medical stretchers
  • Ambulance stretchers may also be wheeled, but are suitable specifically for use in their designated setting.

    They are designed for use in an ambulance or transportation to hospital while the patient lies down.

Instructions for handling a stretcher:

Note: before you begin, you will want to establish a few vital things.

  • This includes making sure airways are clear, vital injuries are stabilised the best possible (e.g bleeding) and checking for spinal cord injuries.
  • You will usually require multiple people (2 minimum) on hand. Use an even number - 2 or 4 people to balance each side.
  • There are numerous ways to move patients. Patients with a spinal cord injury will require very careful transportation. *Lifting may be performed differently per stretcher/situation. Instructions vary.
  • Only trained personnel should operate ambulance stretchers.

General steps:

  • Position the stretcher next to the patient on either side.
  • With the patient lying on their back, have their arms at their side. 
  • The first person should slip their arms beneath the back/waist of the patient, while the second repeats this beneath their knees/hips.
  • Note: you should not bend the neck/head of a person with a spinal cord injury. They may have a cervical collar fitted to keep the neck aligned - or ensure it remains so. “Log roll” them instead - which involves turning them in one motion without flexing the spine.

  • Consecutively, lift the patient at once onto the stretcher.

What is the Difference Between a Stretcher and a Gurney?

Both of these terms refer to commonly used pieces of equipment. 

However, there are some basic differences between a stretcher and a gurney - which we cover below.

Stretcher vs a gurney - in basic terms

Simply put: the legs of a gurney are fitted with wheels. It can essentially be considered a moveable/wheelable stretcher, per say.

  • A gurney is a piece of medical apparatus that specifically is usually used for transporting patients that require medical care.

Often, this will be to a hospital or facility.

The gurney is able to stand alone, supported by its frame and wheels.

This is in contrast to a stretcher, which needs to be lifted.

A gurney will also typically contain straps that serve to fit/secure the patient into position as they are moved.

Stretchers do not need to contain this, although they may.

  • It may be used for carrying individuals either unwell, wounded or deceased - such as from the scene of an incident.
  • Gurneys can also be used within a hospital due to their wheelable nature, such as for transporting patients from room to room before/post an operation.
  • A gurney may be easier to move, as stretchers do not have wheels.

  • Importantly, they also may be usable by one person/a sole helper - rather than a stretcher which requires 2 minimum (or more) helpers holding each end.

Related Questions:

What is the best type of stretcher for a confined space/area?

Portable, stair chair and spine board stretchers best suit this purpose - due to their slim, flexible and/or light nature.

How many people does it require to handle a stretcher?

A gurney is the only option that can be operable by one person, though this may be unideal.

Generally, it is best to have 2 people at minimum - all the way up to 4.


We hope you found this article on handling stretchers for patients helpful.

Having discussed the relevant types of stretchers and their applications, you are now more confidently equipped to use them should the need ever arise!


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