The Role and Timing of Decompression in Acute Spinal Cord Injury
What do we know? What should we do?
Department of Neurosurgery
Royal North Shore and Dalcross Private Hospital
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
The management of acute spinal cord injury has traditionaly concentrated on preventative measures as well as, for the better part of the previous century, conservative care. Pharmacologic interventions, in particular intravenous methylprednisolone therapy, have shown modest improvements in clinical trials and are still undergoing evaluation.
More recent interest has focused on the role of surgical reduction and decompression, particularly "early" surgery. A review of the current evidence available in the literature suggests that there is no standard of care regarding the role and timing of surgical decompression. There are insufficient data to support overall treatment standards or guideines for this topic. There are, however, Class II data indicating that early surgery (less than 24 hours) may be done safely after acute SCI.
Furthermore, there are Class III data to suggest a role for urgent decompression in the setting of 1) bilateral facet dislocation and 2) incomplete spinal cord injury with a neurologically deteriorating patient. Whereas there is biologic evidence from experimental studies in animals that early decompression may improve neurologic recovery after SCI, the relevant time frame in humans remains unclear. To date, the role of decompression in patients with SCI is only supported by Class III and limited Class II evidence and accordingly can be considered only a practice option. Accordingly, there is a strong rationale to undertake prospective, controlled trials to evaluate the role and timing of decompression in acute SCI.