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Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 1999 Aug 15;24(16):1623-33.

The influence of spinal canal narrowing and timing of decompression on neurologic recovery after spinal cord contusion in a rat model.

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  • 1Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of Louisville, Kentucky, USA.



The effect of spinal canal narrowing and the timing of decompression after a spinal cord injury were evaluated using a rat model.


To evaluate whether progressive spinal canal narrowing after a spinal cord injury results in a less favorable neurologic recovery. Additionally, to evaluate the effect of the timing of decompression after spinal cord injury on neurologic recovery.


Results in previous studies are contradictory about whether the amount of canal narrowing or the timing of decompression after a spinal cord injury affects the degree of neurologic recovery.


Forty adult male Sprague-Dawley rats were equally divided into a control group, in which spacers of 20%, 35%, and 50% were placed into the spinal canal after laminectomy, and an injury group in which the spacers were placed after a standardized incomplete spinal cord injury. After spacer removal, neurologic recovery in both was monitored by Basso, Beattie, Bresnahan (BBB) Locomotor Rating Scale (Ohio State University, Columbus, OH) motor scores and transcranial magnetic motor evoked potentials for 6 weeks followed by histologic examination of the spinal cords. Subsequently, 42 rats were divided into five groups in which, after spacer placement, the time until decompression was lengthened 0, 2, 6, 24, and 72 hours. Again, serial BBB motor scores and transcranial magnetic motor evoked potentials were used to assess neurologic recovery for 6 weeks until the animals were killed for histologic evaluation.


Spacer placement alone in the control animals resulted in no neurologic injury until canal narrowing reached 50%. All of the control groups (spacer only) exhibited significantly better (P < 0.05) motor scores compared with the injury groups (injury followed by spacer insertion). Within the injury groups the motor scores were progressively lower as spacer sizes increased from the no-spacer group to the 35% group. The results in the 35% and 50% groups were not statistically different. The results of the time until decompression demonstrated that the motor scores were consistently better the shorter the duration of spacer placement (P < 0.05) for each of the time groups (0, 2, 6, 24, and 72 hours) over the 6-week recovery period. Histologic analysis showed more severe spinal cord damage as both spinal canal narrowing and the time until decompression increased.


The results in this study present strong evidence that the prognosis for neurologic recovery is adversely affected by both a higher percentage of canal narrowing and a longer duration of canal narrowing after a spinal cord injury. The tolerance for spinal canal narrowing with a contused cord appears diminished, indicating that an injured spinal cord may benefit from early decompression. Additionally, it appears that the longer the spinal cord compression exists after an incomplete spinal cord injury, the worse the prognosis for neurologic recovery.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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