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Spinal Cord. 2011 Jan;49(1):17-29. doi: 10.1038/sc.2010.39. Epub 2010 Apr 20.

The acute respiratory management of cervical spinal cord injury in the first 6 weeks after injury: a systematic review.

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Physiotherapy Department, Austin Hospital, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.



Systematic review.


Identify, evaluate, and synthesize evidence regarding the effectiveness of various treatment strategies for the respiratory management of acute tetraplegia.


Melbourne, Australia.


A search of multiple electronic databases (Medline, Cinahl, EMBASE, Cochrane Library, Web of Science, and was undertaken accompanied by the reference lists of all relevant articles identified. Methodological quality was assessed using the Newcastle-Ottawa Scale and the PEDro Scale. Descriptive analysis was performed.


Twenty-one studies including 1263 patients were identified. The majority of the studies were case series (n = 13). A variety of interventions were used for the management of respiratory complications. Mortality (ARR = 0.4, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.18, 0.61), the incidence of respiratory complications (ARR = 0.36, 95% CI (0.08, 0.58)), and requirement for a tracheostomy (ARR = 0.18, 95% CI (-0.05, 0.4)) were significantly reduced by using a respiratory protocol. A clinical pathway reduced duration of mechanical ventilation by 6 days 95% CI (-0.56, 12.56), intensive care unit length of stay by 6.8 days 95% CI (0.17-13.77) and costs. Intubation, mechanical ventilation, and tracheostomy are the mainstay of respiratory management for complete injuries above the level of C5.


This review showed a clinical pathway with a structured respiratory protocol that includes a combination of treatment techniques provided regularly is effective in reducing respiratory complications and cost. The overall study quality was moderate and further studies using specific interventions that target respiratory complications are associated with specific regions of the cervical spine using more methodologically rigorous designs are required.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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