Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Life-saving pants! (Or are they?)

Hi all – it’s me, the Archivist – frequent blog reader/reviewer, infrequent blog writer. I’ve been quite busy since starting here back in October, but we recently received an interesting donated artifact that I felt like writing about.

The Rogue Regional Medical Center contacted us a while back as they were cleaning out some holdings and had a pair of pants they thought we might want. “Pants?,” you ask. Yes. But not the type you would wear on a normal day. These pants are Medical Anti-Shock Trousers, or MAST (alternatively referred to as Military anti-shock trousers or pneumatic anti-shock garments). These pants open up and are placed around the pelvis and legs of a trauma victim, and then inflate – applying pressure to the lower half of the body.

MAST: Medical anti-shock trousers
MAST: Medical anti-shock trousers, MMC.2017.001

The concept of the MAST came about early in the 1900s, first described by Dr. George Crile. His device was used during World War II. Further development was overseen by NASA in the 1960s, with their product being used during the Vietnam War. Later in the 1970s, they were introduced into general hospitals and emergency medical services (EMS) for civilian use. The idea behind them is that severe blood loss could be treated in the field to prolong the life of the victim during transport to a medical facility. They would also help immobilize the patient and provide some support and comfort during transport. MAST became regularly used by EMS in the 1970s and 1980s.

MAST: Medical anti-shock trousers case
The trousers come in a handy travel case
However, how the MAST actually helped save lives was little understood and evidence of the effectiveness of the trousers was generally anecdotal. Later in the 1980s, researchers in Houston, TX conducted a 2½-year-long study to examine patient outcomes when MAST were used. In the end, they concluded that the trousers offered little towards saving lives or reducing hospital stays; in fact, they may actually be detrimental overall. As time passed, use of the MAST decreased and they are now seen as a relic of past medical practices. And thus – they end up somewhere like our Archives.

Unfurling these from the cool and vintage-science-looking case they came in, I was tempted to try them on – mostly for the photo opportunity, but the strange mediciney-rubbery smell emanating from them curtailed that somewhat-unprofessional idea. However, they are an interesting technological innovation from medical history and should you or a friend wish to research the history of trauma care, these pants may offer you some tangible benefits.


Bledsoe, Bryan. “EMS Myth #1: Medical Anti-Shock Trousers (MAST) autotransfuse a significant amount of blood and save lives.” EMS World. November 30, 2003. Accessed July 18, 2017. Archived version:

“Military anti-shock trousers.” Wikipedia. January 10, 2017. Accessed July 18, 2017. (see references here for more information)

No comments: