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Neurosurg Focus. 2008;25(5):E7. doi: 10.3171/FOC.2008.25.11.E7.

Factors affecting neurological outcome in traumatic conus medullaris and cauda equina injuries.

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  • 1Combined Neurosurgical and Orthopaedic Spine Program, Department of Orthopaedics, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.


The purpose of this review was to describe the relevant factors that influence neurological outcomes in patients who sustain traumatic conus medullaris injuries (CMIs) and cauda equina injuries (CEIs). Despite the propensity for spinal trauma to affect the thoracolumbar spine, few studies have adequately characterized the outcomes of CMIs and CEIs. Typically the level of neural axis injury is inferred from the spinal level of injury or the presenting neurological picture because no study from the spinal literature has specifically evaluated the location of the conus medullaris with respect to the level of greatest canal compromise. Furthermore, the conus medullaris is known to have a small but important variable location based on the spinal level. Patients with a CMI will typically present with variable lowerextremity weakness, absent lower-limb reflexes, and saddle anesthesia. The development of a mixed upper motor neuron and lower motor neuron syndrome may occur in patients with CMIs, whereas a CEI is a pure lower motor neuron injury. Many treatment options exist and should be individualized. Posterior decompression and stabilization offers at least equivalent neurological outcomes as nonoperative or anterior approaches and has the additional benefits of surgeon familiarity, shorter hospital stays, earlier rehabilitation, and ease of nursing care. Overall, CEIs and CMIs have similar outcomes, which include ambulatory motor function and a variable persistence of bowel, bladder, and potentially sexual dysfunctions.

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