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EMTs using a stretcher in 2001.
Armed escort carries the wounded to the Senegalese border, Guinea-Bissau, 1974.

A stretcher, gurney, 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. A wheeled stretcher (known as a gurney, trolley, bed or cart) is often equipped with variable height frames, wheels, tracks, or skids.

Stretchers are primarily used in acute out-of-hospital care situations by emergency medical services (EMS), military, and search and rescue personnel. In medical forensics the right arm of a corpse is left hanging off the stretcher to let paramedics know it is not a wounded patient. They are also used to hold prisoners during lethal injections in the United States.[2]


Illustration of chair stretcher, "On the Transport of sick and wounded troops", 1868.
A wounded knight is carried on a medieval stretcher.

An early stretcher, likely made of wicker over a frame, appears in a manuscript from c. 1380.[3] Simple stretchers were common with militaries right through the middle of the 20th century.[4]


Generally spelled gurney, but also guerney or girney.[5] The first usage of the term for a wheeled stretcher is unclear, but it is believed to have been derived from Pacific Coast slang.[6] Its use in a hospital context was established by the 1930s.[7][8]


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

EMS stretchers used in ambulances have wheels that makes transportation over pavement easier, and have a lock inside the ambulance and straps to secure the patient during transport. An integral lug on the stretcher locks into a sprung latch within the ambulance in order to prevent movement during transport. Modern stretchers may also have 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. Specialized bariatric stretchers are also available, which feature a wider frame and higher weight capacity for heavier patients. Stretchers are usually covered with a disposable sheet or wrapping, and are cleaned after each use to prevent the spread of infection. Shelves, hooks and poles for medical equipment and intravenous medication are also frequently included.

Standard stretchers have several adjustments. The bed can be raised or lowered to facilitate patient transfer. The head of the stretcher 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 spinal board. The feet can be raised to what is called the Trendelenburg position, indicated for patients in shock.

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.[9]

Basic stretchers

Scoop stretcher

Flexible stretchers

A flexible stretcher, also known by the brand names Reeves sleeve or SKED,[note 1] is a stretcher that is often supported longitudinally by wooden or plastic planks. Essentially a tarpaulin with handles, it is primarily used to move a patient through confined spaces, e.g., a narrow hallway, or to lift obese patients.[14] Reeves stretchers have six handholds, allowing multiple rescuers to assist extrication.[15]

Wheeled stretchers

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 stretcher locks into a sprung latch within the ambulance in order to prevent movement during transport, often referred to as antlers due to their shape. 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 department. Both types may have straps to secure the patient.

Other types of stretchers

See also



  1. ^ Not an acronym: rather, a portmanteau of skid and sled.[13]


  1. ^ Morehead, Philip D. (July 2002). "Stretcher". New American Roget's College Thesaurus in Dictionary Form. Penguin. ISBN 9781101220085.
  2. ^ "A Brief History of Lethal Injection". 10 November 2009. Archived from the original on 26 June 2008.
  3. ^ Valère-Maxime, Facta et Dicta memorabilia traduction françaiseSimon de Hesdin (Livres I-IV). 1375.
  4. ^ [dead link]
  5. ^ Normand Louis Hoerr, ed. (1956). New Gould Medical Dictionary. Arthur Osol (2 ed.). New York: Blakiston Division, McGraw-Hill.
  6. ^ "Guerney". Carriage Monthly. 40. Philadelphia: Ware Brothers Publishing: 140. April 1904. OCLC 2448762. The Guerney is a contraction of the Guerney cab. patented by J. T. Guerney, Boston, Mass., and in modified form is now considerably used. Many vehicles on the Pacific Coast are termed "guerneys," though they are anything else.
  7. ^ "Section 2". Hospital Management. 11. Clissold Publishing Company: 47. 1921. The base of the ordinary food and laundry gurney is used
  8. ^ "Stolen Hospital Guerney is Found". Oakland Tribune. 11 January 1935.
  9. ^ "Stretcher Chairs and Medical Supplies".
  10. ^ a b Pollak, Andrew N., ed. (2021). Emergency: Care and Transportation of the Sick and Injured (12th ed.). Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning. p. 311. ISBN 9781284243833.
  11. ^ "the WauK board". Archived from the original on 7 July 2017. Retrieved 6 April 2014.
  12. ^ Fahey, David (2015). "Eponymous Stretchers: Stretchers named after their Inventors" (PDF). The Journal of the St. John Ambulance Historical Society of Australia. 15 (12): 13–19 – via Google Scholar.
  13. ^ "Instructions and user manual" (PDF). SKED®: The complete rescue system. Tualatin, Oregon, United States: Skedco Inc. 2014. p. 12. Retrieved 11 December 2023.
  14. ^ Aehlert, Barbara (1998). Aehlert's EMT-basic Study Guide. Williams & Wilkins. p. 697. ISBN 9780683302172.
  15. ^ "Stretchers Immobilization, Reeves Sleeve II, 122 & Dragable, Reeves Flexible Stretcher 101 & 103– Reeves EMS". Retrieved 4 April 2018.