Complete Traumatic Spinal Cord Injury: Current Insights Regarding Timing of Surgery and Level of Injury

Paula Valerie ter Wengel, Yvette De Haan, Ricardo E. Feller, F. Cumhur Oner, William Peter Vandertop

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Study Design: A narrative literature review. Objectives: To review the neurological recovery patterns in traumatic spinal cord injury (tSCI) patients with a complete lack of motor and sensory function below the level of injury (ie, ASIA A [American Spinal Injury Association scale]), as well as the impact of level of injury and timing of surgical intervention. Results: Spontaneous neurological recovery in patients with complete tSCI differs per level of injury: patients with cervical and thoracolumbar tSCI recover ≥1 ASIA grade in 17.3% to 34.0% 1 year after injury, compared with 10.7% to 18.6% in thoracic tSCI. Surgical decompression within 24 hours has a beneficial effect on neurological recovery in patients with complete cervical tSCI, whereas this effect is less clear for thoracic and thoracolumbar tSCI. A 1- or 2-grade improvement in the ASIA scale does not necessarily result in functional recovery. Conclusion: In complete tSCI, the level of injury as well as surgical timing affect neurological recovery. There appears to be a beneficial effect of early surgical decompression in patients with complete cervical tSCI, more so than for thoracic and thoracolumbar tSCI. Frequently, the effect of surgical intervention is evaluated by an improvement in ASIA grade, but it is unclear whether this scale is sensitive enough to evaluate meaningful effectiveness of the intervention and desired outcome for patients with tSCI.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)324-331
Number of pages8
JournalGlobal Spine Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2020


  • complete spinal cord injury
  • outcome assessment
  • spinal cord injuries
  • spinal fusion
  • surgical decompression

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