Medicine:Intraosseous infusion

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Intraosseous infusion
811 Tibia and fibula.jpg
The tibia IO insertion site is just below the medial condyle, labeled in this picture.

Intraosseous infusion (IO) is the process of injecting medications, fluids, or blood products directly into the marrow of a bone;[1] this provides a non-collapsible entry point into the systemic venous system.[2] The intraosseous infusion technique is used to provide fluids and medication when intravenous access is not available or not feasible. Intraosseous infusions allow for the administered medications and fluids to go directly into the vascular system.[3] The IO route of fluid and medication administration is an alternative to the preferred intravascular route when the latter cannot be established in a timely manner in emergent situations. Intraosseous infusions are used when people have compromised intravenous access and need immediate delivery of life-saving fluids and medications.[3]


The use of IV route to administer fluids has been around since the 1830s, and, in 1922, Cecil K. Drinker et al. saw that bone, specifically the sternum, could also be used as a route of administration for emergency purposes.[4] To continue the expansion of knowledge regarding IO administration, a successful blood transfusion was done in 1940 using the sternum, and afterwards, in 1941, Tocantins and O'Neill demonstrated successful vascular access using the bone marrow cavity of a long bone in rabbits.[4] Because of Tocantins and O'Neill's success in their experiments with rabbits, human clinical trials were established using mainly the body of the sternum or manubrium for access.[5] Emanuel M. Papper and others then continued to advocate, research, and make advances on behalf of IO administration.[6] Once Papper showed that the bone marrow space could be used comparatively to administer IV fluids and drugs, intraosseous infusion was popularized during World War II in order to prevent soldiers death via hemorrhagic shock.[7] While popular in the field during WWII, the use of IO was not seen as a standard for emergencies until the 1980s, and only so for children.[7] With the rise of technology allowing the ease of technique of IO, and a lower risk of complications like bloodstream infections seen than when using peripheral access, the alternative of IO access has increased throughout the years for adults, as well.[7] IO is now recommended in Advanced Cardiac and Pediatric Advanced Life Support treatment protocols, in the cases where access via IV cannot be established in a timely manner.[4]


Intraosseous access is indicated in emergent situations, such as when a person experiences some type of major trauma like shock, cardiac arrest, severe dehydration,[8] or severe gastrointestinal hemorrhage.[9] IO access can provide the quickest way to rapidly infuse needed medications and fluids in an emergency situation.[8] In people who experience critical trauma and who do not have good blood pressure, the IO route success rates double that of a peripheral IV route.

In addition to the emergency clinical scenario that can call for an IO route to be used, IO access is only indicated when access to peripheral veins is either not possible or delayed. When IV access is either not possible or delayed, other indications for utilizing the IO route include administering contrast if needed for radiology scans and drawing blood for laboratory testing and analysis.[10] Situations that can result in decreased access or delay to peripheral veins and thus indicate the use of an IO route to infuse medications and fluids include circumstances like burns, fluid accumulation (edema), past IV drug use, obesity and very low blood pressure.[8]


  1. Having adequate and timely peripheral venous access is a major contraindication to obtaining IO access.
  2. Fractures in the bone at the site of device insertion
  3. Burn damage to the tissues around the site of device insertion
  4. Cellulitis or other type of skin infection at the site of device insertion
  5. Osteogenesis imperfecta, also referred to as Brittle Bone Disease
  6. Osteoporosis[10]
  7. Osteomyelitis
  8. Osteopetrosis
  9. Osteopenia
  10. Recent orthopedic surgery
  11. A recent failed attempt at device insertion in the same bone [8]


An IO infusion can be used on adult or pediatric populations when traditional methods of vascular access are difficult or otherwise cause unwanted delayed management of the administration of medications. The IO site can be used for 24 hours and should be removed as soon as intravenous access has been gained. Prolonged use of an IO site, lasting longer than 24 hours, is associated with osteomyelitis (an infection in the bone).[3] File:Intraosseous infusion needle insertion into anterior tibia.webm The needle is injected through the bone's hard cortex and into the soft marrow interior which allows immediate access to the vascular system. The IO needle is positioned at a 90 degree angle to the injection site, and the needle is advanced through manual traction, impact driven force, or power driven. Each IO device has different designated insertion locations. The most common site of insertion is the antero-medial aspect of the upper, proximal tibia as it lies just under the skin and is easily located. This is on the upper and inner portion of the tibia. Other insertion sites include the anterior aspect of the femur, the superior iliac crest, proximal humerus, proximal tibia, distal tibia, sternum (manubrium).[1]

There are several different injection routes to introduce drugs into our system aside from IO infusion such as intravenous (IV), intramuscular (IM), and subcutaneous (SC). IV is delivering medication using a needle into the veins when an individual cannot take anything by mouth, need fast absorption, or the medication is too irritating to the skin. SC is delivering medication into the subcutis. IM is delivering medication into the muscle. Depending on the type of the medication, its safety, efficacy, patience preference, and its pharmacoeconomics, different injection routes are used.[1]

Although intravascular access is still the preferred method for medication delivery in the prehospital area, IO access for adults has become more common. As of 2010, American Heart Association no longer recommends using the endotracheal tube for resuscitation drugs, except as a last resort when IV or IO access cannot be gained.[1] ET absorption of medications is poor and optimal drug dosings are unknown. The IO is becoming more common in civilian and military based pre-hospital emergency medical services (EMS) systems globally.[11]

Intraosseous access has roughly the same absorption rate as IV access, and allows for fluid resuscitation. For example, sodium bicarbonate can be administered IO during a cardiac arrest when IV access is unavailable.[1] High flow rates are attainable with an IO infusion, up to 125 milliliters per minute. This high rate of flow is achieved using a pressure bag to administer the infusion directly into the bone. Large volume IO infusions are known to be painful. 1% lidocaine is used to ease the pain associated with large volume IO infusions in conscious people.[3]


Like any medical procedure, intraosseous infusion has some potential complications. In a review by Tyler et al., an analysis across the included studies found the overall complication rate associated with IO infusions to be less than 1% (0.9%).[12]

Complications include:

  • Bone fractures from the puncture devices
  • Catheter misplacement which can lead to extravasation
  • Bone and tissue damage from the puncturing device needle breaking off in the bone
  • Compartment syndrome[12]
  • Osteomyelitis
  • Epiphyseal plate injury in pediatric populations[13]

Many of these potential complications can be prevented with simple measures like using good technique and keeping the timeframe where IO infusion is used short by switching to IV when feasible.[14] Bone fracture complications can be decreased by using modern techniques and having more regular training on how to puncture the bone to access the intraosseous marrow for infusion. Extravasation can lead to the more serious complication compartment syndrome. The risk of developing compartment syndrome can be reduced by medical personnel checking the infusion site regularly for any signs of swelling. Swelling could indicate misplacement of the catheter. Avoiding puncturing the same bone in a 48-hour time frame can also lessen risk of developing this complication. The risk of osteomyelitis, while very low ( <1%), can be further lessened by using sterile, hygienic practices and modern devices to make the puncture. Damage to the epiphyseal plate can be avoided by training medical personnel about proper landmarks to be used for determining puncture sites.[13]


Axial CT with left humeral head EZ-IO (power driver device) infusion of contrast.

Intraosseous devices allow quick and safe access to the individual's vascular system for fluid and drug administration. After proper education and training, medical professionals can obtain vascular access via IO route of administration by using one of the multiple devices that have been approved by the FDA for 24-hour use.[7] There are several FDA approved IO devices, categorized by their mechanism of action:

BIG IO devices (spring-loaded)
  1. Power Driver: EZ-IO By Arrow Teleflex.
    • The EZ-IO device is a small device that works like a traditional drill and drill bit consisting of a reusable, battery-powered driver and disposable, hollow IO needle.[15] A trigger allows for the IO needle to enter the bone marrow space at a preset length without any pressure being applied.[16] In the United States, the FDA has approved use of the EZ-IO device in the proximal tibia and the head of the humerus.[16]
  2. Spring-Loaded: the Bone Injection Gun (BIG) and the Pyng Medical Corporation FAST 1
    • The First Access for Shock and Trauma (FAST 1) spring-loaded device is designed for use in the sternum of an adult. The FAST 1 device consists of multiple needles in a probe that penetrates into the manubrium once manual pressure is applied.[16] The Bone Injection Gun (BIG) device is a small, plastic, disposable, spring-loaded device that has a trigger that shoots the IO needle into the IO insertion site, which is more than likely in the proximal tibia.[16]
  3. Manual / Hand Powered : Cardinal Health Jamishidi/Illinois needle, the Cook Critical Care threaded Sur-Fast needle, and the Cook Critical Care Dieckman modified needle (the 3 most widely used)[16]
    • Hollow steel manually inserted needles have been around since the invention of IO administration, and use a removable trocar to aid in insertion of the needle. Dense adult bone limits its use, but manual devices are commonly used in children because of their safety profile and ease of use, once training has occurred.[7]

Each device is capable of achieving rapid vascular access, despite mechanism of action, with insertion times comparable to IV administration route.[16]

Special Populations


Intraosseous infusion, pediatric

A comparison of intravenous (IV), intramuscular (IM), and intraosseous (IO) routes of administration concluded that the intraosseous (IO) route is the preferred method versus intramuscular (IM) and comparable to intravenous (IV) administration in delivering pediatric anaesthetic drugs.[17]

Intraosseous infusion (IO) is used in pediatric populations during anesthesia when other intravenous access, central venous catherization or venous cutdown, are difficult to use or cannot be used. When individuals are severely ill and are in need of "rapid, efficient, and safe delivery of drugs", IO is used.[18] When inserting the intraosseous needle on a conscious individual, this can be very painful. For children, anesthesia is not recommended before the procedure for non-emergency situations. Instead, distracting and holding the child is preferred. Intraosseous infusion is used in instances such as, "immediate indication/life-threatening emergency, cardiac/respiratory arrest, acute shock, hypothermia, obesity, edema, thermal injury, etc."[19]

For children the preferred site of IO are the distal tibia, proximal tibia, and distal femur. The distal end of the tibia is the preferred site because it is easy to access and the most reliable. Depending on the procedure, a variety of needles are used for IO. For example, "standard steel hypodermic, butterfly, spinal, trephine, sternal, and standard bone marrow needles are used." Needles that have a short shaft are preferred and safe. For infants that are up to 6 to 8 months old, 18-gauge needles are used and for children that are more than 8 months old, 15- or 16- gauge needles are used.[20]

Another incidence where IO is preferred is during pediatric requiring resuscitation. In a study done by Glaeser et al., concluded that individuals who received IO vs. peripheral and central intravenous access were able to obtain much faster and successful IO access. In another study by Fiorito et al., observed the safety of IO use during transporting critically ill pediatric individuals. Based on the results, they concluded that use of IO was safe due to 78% of successful placement of IO needle as well as complications that occurred in 12% of the cases.[21]

Similarly to adults, contradictions for IO infusion use in pediatrics include bone disease such as osteogenesis imperfecta, osteopetrosis, and fractures. Others include, cellulitis, burn, and infections.[22]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Luck, Raemma P.; Haines, Christopher; Mull, Colette C. (2010). "Intraosseous access". The Journal of Emergency Medicine 39 (4): 468–475. doi:10.1016/j.jemermed.2009.04.054. ISSN 0736-4679. PMID 19545966. 
  2. "Intraosseous infusions: a review for the anesthesiologist with a focus on pediatric use". Anesthesia & Analgesia 110 (2): 391–401. 2010. doi:10.1213/ane.0b013e3181c03c7f. PMID 19897801. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Day, Michael W. (2011). "Intraosseous Devises for Intravascular Access in Adult Trauma Patients". Critical Care Nurse 31 (2): 76–89. doi:10.4037/ccn2011615. PMID 21459867. 
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  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 The Consortium on Intraosseous Vascular Access in Healthcare Practice (2010). "Recommendations for the Use of Intraosseous Vascular Access for Emergent and Nonemergent Situations in Various Health Care Settings: A Consensus Paper" (in en). Critical Care Nurse 30 (6): e1–e7. doi:10.4037/ccn2010632. ISSN 0279-5442. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Petitpas, F.; Guenezan, J.; Vendeuvre, T.; Scepi, M.; Oriot, D.; Mimoz, O. (2016). "Use of intra-osseous access in adults: a systematic review". Critical Care (London, England) 20: 102. doi:10.1186/s13054-016-1277-6. ISSN 1466-609X. PMID 27075364. PMC 4831096. 
  9. D'Amore, Katrina; Swaminathan, Anand (2020). "Massive Gastrointestinal Hemorrhage". Emergency Medicine Clinics of North America 38 (4): 871–889. doi:10.1016/j.emc.2020.06.008. ISSN 1558-0539. PMID 32981623. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 Dornhofer, Peter; Kellar, Jesse Z. (2021), "Intraosseous Vascular Access", StatPearls (Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing), PMID 32119260,, retrieved 2021-07-27 
  11. Paxton, James H.; Knuth, Thomas E.; Klausner, Howard A. (2009). "Proximal Humerus Intraosseous Infusion: A Preferred Emergency Venous Access". Journal of Trauma-Injury Infection & Critical Care 67 (3): 606–611. doi:10.1097/ta.0b013e3181b16f42. PMID 19741408. 
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  14. Katz, D. S.; Wojtowycz, A. R. (1994). "Tibial fracture: a complication of intraosseous infusion". The American Journal of Emergency Medicine 12 (2): 258–259. doi:10.1016/0735-6757(94)90261-5. ISSN 0735-6757. PMID 8161406. 
  15. Weiser, Giora; Hoffmann, Yoav; Galbraith, Roger; Shavit, Itai (2012). "Current advances in intraosseous infusion – A systematic review". Resuscitation 83 (1): 20–26. doi:10.1016/j.resuscitation.2011.07.020. ISSN 0300-9572. 
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