Can occur as a result of spine trauma, vertebral compression fracture, intervertebral disc herniation, primary or metastatic spinal tumour, or infection.
The resulting spinal cord injury may be acute, sub-acute, or chronic and occurs due to direct cord damage, by compression and/or infiltration, or by compromise of the vascular supply to the cord.
Diagnosis is made by x-ray or MRI of the spine, but spinal cord injury may occur with no findings on imaging.
Acute spinal cord compression (SCC) is a medical emergency that requires swift diagnosis and treatment to prevent irreversible spinal cord injury and long-term disability.
Treatment of acute SCC may include corticosteroids, surgery, or radiotherapy.
Spinal cord compression (SCC) results from processes that compress or displace arterial, venous, and cerebrospinal fluid spaces, as well as the cord itself. This can occur as a result of extrinsic causes and lesions, or intrinsic aetiologies of the cord substance. Examples include trauma or tumour affecting the cord substance, and lesions that compromise cord function emanating from surrounding elements or vascular sources. The presenting symptoms are a result of spinal cord injury (SCI) or root dysfunction and include paresis, sensory changes or loss of sensation, sphincter dysfunction (urinary or anal), and erectile problems. Diagnosis is made by x-ray, CT or MRI of the spine, but SCI due to SCC can occur with no findings on imaging, a situation termed SCI without roentgen abnormality (SCIWORA).
History and exam
- presence of risk factors
- age group 16 to 30 years (trauma)
- age group 30 to 50 years (disc disease)
- age group 40 to 75 years (malignancy)
- acute onset and duration of symptoms
- chronic onset and duration of symptoms
- back pain
- numbness or paraesthesias
- weakness or paralysis
- bladder or bowel dysfunction
- sensory loss
- muscle weakness or wasting
- loss of tone below level of suspected injury (spinal shock)
- hypotension and bradycardia (neurogenic shock)
- complete cord transection syndrome
- cauda equina syndrome
- central cord syndrome
Kenneth F. Casey, MD, FACS
Clinical Associate Professor Surgery (Neurosurgery)
Michigan State University
Clinical Associate Professor (Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation)
Wayne State University School of Medicine
KFC declares that he has no competing interests.
Marc Chamberlain, MD
Professor of Neurology
Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute
University of Washington
MC is an author of several references cited in this topic.
Alexios G. Carayannopoulos, DO, MPH
Interventional Spine Physiatrist
Pain Medicine Specialist
AGC declares that he has no competing interests.
William A. Petri, Jr, MD, PhD, FACP
Chief and Professor of Medicine
Division of Infectious Diseases and International Health
University of Virginia Health System
WAP declares that he has no competing interests.
Shuxun Hou, MD, PhD
Professor and Chief Physician
Clinic of the General Hospital of CPLA
SH declares that he has no competing interests.
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