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For other uses, see Stretcher (disambiguation).
"Gurney" redirects here. For people called Gurney, see Gurney (surname).
EMTs using a stretcher in 2001.

A stretcher, litter, or pram[1] is an apparatus used for moving patients who require medical care. A basic type (cot or litter) must be carried by two or more people. Whereas a wheeled stretcher (known as a gurney, trolley, bed or cart) is often equipped with variable height frames containing wheels, tracks, or skids. In American English, a wheeled stretcher is referred to as a gurney. The name comes from a horse-drawn cab patented in the USA by J. Theodore Gurney in 1883 which bore a similarity to early wheeled stretchers.

Stretchers are primarily used in acute out-of-hospital care situations by EMS, military, and Search and rescue personnel. However they are also used to hold prisoners during lethal injections in the United States.[2]


A simple stretcher used by U.S. Marines in a training environment in December 2003.
U.S. Marines transport a non-ambulatory patient via litter, outside of Fallujah, Iraq in 2006
Scoop stretcher

For ambulances, a collapsible wheeled stretcher, or gurney, is a type of stretcher on a variable-height wheeled frame. Normally, an integral lug on the gurney locks into a sprung latch within the ambulance in order to prevent movement during transport. It is usually covered with a disposable sheet and cleaned after each patient in order to prevent the spread of infection. Its key value is to facilitate moving the patient and sheet onto a fixed bed or table on arrival at the emergency room. Both types may have straps to secure the patient.

Standard gurneys have several adjustments. The bed can be raised or lowered to facilitate patient transfer. The head of the gurney can be raised so that the patient is in a sitting position (especially important for those in respiratory distress) or lowered flat in order to perform CPR, or for patients with suspected spinal injury who must be transported on a long spine board. The feet can be raised to what is called the Trendelenburg position, indicated for patients in shock.

Moving Patients in Stairwells, Elevators, and Tight Spaces[edit]

The WauK board is a patient transport device that can be used like a dolly. It includes a footrest for the patient and two wheels to maneuver through tight spaces.[3]

Power-assisted Stretchers[edit]

A fairly recent innovation is the addition of battery-powered hydraulics to raise and collapse the legs automatically. This eases the workload on EMS personnel, who are statistically at high risk of back injury from repetitive raising and lowering of patients.

Special "bariatric gurneys" are used for obese patients. These are both wider and have a higher weight capacity compared to standard equipment.

Other types of stretchers[edit]

Some manufacturers have begun to offer hybrid devices that combine the functionality of a stretcher, a recliner chair, and a treatment or procedural table into one device.[4]


Stretchers have been used since antiquity, on battlefields and in emergency situations, where wheeled vehicles are hindered by rough terrain. In their simplest form, they generally consisted of a canvas sling with long edges sewn to themselves to form pockets through which wooden poles could be slid. This form was common with militaries right through the middle of the 20th century, and in disaster situations, where rapid triage and movement of patients based on severity of injuries is critical, they are still used by emergency response providers.

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]