Surgical decompression after traumatic spinal cord injury

Spinal cord injury (SCI) is a serious condition that can cause chronic pain and permanent loss of motor function. Because there is no cure for SCI, symptoms and outcomes are managed with therapeutic treatments and rehabilitation. Current research suggests that medical interventions such as spinal cord decompression and spine stabilization can enhance rehabilitation, but clinicians disagree about how these interventions should be administered over the treatment course.

Spinal cord compression is a medical emergency that occurs when bone fragments, typically fractured by high-impact injuries, put pressure on areas of the spinal cord. The severity and duration of compression is correlated with the degree of motor impairment, so clinicians agree that decompressing the spine after injury is critical for preventing long-term damage and disability. However, they often propose different methods and timing for decompression.

A recent study in Nigeria investigated the effectiveness of surgical decompression for patients with SCI. Researchers collected data from SCI patients who underwent surgical decompression within 48 hours of injury. The 85% of patients who did survive after surgery experienced stability or improvement in their conditions. Although one in five patients experienced post-operative infections, the surgery was otherwise successful in decompressing and stabilizing the spinal cord after traumatic injury.

SCI is irreversible and often leads to pain, permanent paralysis, or death. Fortunately, fast diagnosis and clinical action can reduce the negative outcomes associated with SCI. When performed within 48 hours of injury, surgical spinal decompression is critical for improving patient rehabilitation and reducing complications during the recovery period.

Ojo OA, Pouyi EO, Owolabi BS, et al. Surgical decompression for traumatic spinal cord injury in a tertiary center. Nigerian Journal of Clinical Practice. (January 2018).

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