What is a Papoose Board?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 14 August 2019
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A papoose board is so named after the papoose, a term derived from a Native American word and given by colonist Americans to describe a method of carrying and securing children used by Native Americans. This involved placing the child on a flat board, and securely wrapping and/or tying the child in skins or blankets, so that it could be carried on the back without concern of flailing limbs or inadequate warmth. The papoose board of today is a flat board with wrappings, but its use is principally in the medical field and not as backpack. While mostly intended for children, it may have some application when needing to secure a patient who cannot keep still due to movement disorder or inability to obey commands.

The typical papoose board slightly resembles a travel size ironing board. It may be padded on the surface, and its sides feature a variety of straps, buckles or flaps that can be brought together to limit movement. Certain medical and dental procedures may be made much easier by its use because it so inhibits the movement of the body and potentially the head too. Some dentists recommend using a papoose board for younger pediatric clients, especially for those that require extensive dental surgery. In other areas of medicine, the board might be employed to stabilize a person for x-ray, or to do procedures like starting a central line.


There’s no doubt that that the papoose board is an effective way to keep a person from moving, but there is considerable controversy regarding its use. Restraining someone with straps or flaps to perform what may be a frightening procedure is, in the estimation of some people, tantamount to child abuse. Some people can recall memories of being restrained in this manner when children, and as adults they still feel the violation of this act. Given these feelings, parents usually have to consent to the board’s use, and many of them will not.

There are alternatives to the papoose board, including extra sedation for some procedures. From a purely physical standpoint, and especially in regard to children, restraining a child on a board is safer than giving them more medication. However, no medical treatment is purely physical; any treatment is emotional too, even if a child might be too young to remember. Many feel that extra sedation and slightly increased risk of complications is a small price to pay if it means not having to restrain a child.

People may produce calm in children in a variety of creative ways, whereas many children respond to the papoose board with great upset. Some children paradoxically fall into a calm state when fully restrained, particularly if they are very little. Other methods some parents may advocate instead of using a board include holding a child and talking to them during a procedure (even dental work), providing a softer restraint wrap like a secure bundling of babies, and having music or a video nearby that can distract focus of most toddlers. In contrast, some parents do feel restraining children is a necessary method for getting needed medical attention and preferable to additional sedation. As such they support use of the papoose board and would consent to its use in most circumstances.


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Post 1

This article raises an interesting choice on the use of extra sedation versus physical restraint for surgical procedures. Overly heavy sedation can cause complications or unwanted side effects, while physical restraint is likely uncomfortable and perhaps even scary. Not sure which I'd choose.

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