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Injury. 2005 Jul;36 Suppl 2:B13-26.

The role and timing of early decompression for cervical spinal cord injury: update with a review of recent clinical evidence.

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Division of Neurosurgery, Toronto Western Hospital, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


It remains controversial whether early decompression following spinal cord injury conveys a benefit in neurological outcome. The goal of this paper is to provide evidence-based recommendations regarding spinal cord decompression in patients with acute spinal cord injury. We performed a Medline search of experimental and clinical studies reporting on the effect of decompression on neurological outcome following spinal cord injury. Animal studies consistently show that neurological recovery is enhanced by early decompression. One randomized controlled trial showed no benefit to early (<72 h) decompression, however, several recent prospective series suggest that early decompression (<12 h) can be performed safely and may improve neurological outcomes. A recent meta-analysis showed that early decompression (<24 h) resulted in statistically better outcomes compared to both delayed decompression and conservative management. Currently, there are no standards regarding the role and timing of decompression in acute spinal cord injury. We recommend urgent decompression of bilateral locked facets in patients with incomplete tetraplegia or in patients with spinal cord injury experiencing neurological deterioration. Urgent decompression in acute cervical spinal cord injury remains a reasonable practice option and can be performed safely.

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