Early Versus Delayed Surgery for Acute Cervical Spinal Cord Injury

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The optimal timing of surgical intervention in cervical spinal cord injuries has not been defined. The goals of the study were to investigate changes in neurologic status, length of hospitalization, and acute complications associated with surgery within 3 days of injury versus surgery more than 3 days after the injury. All patients undergoing surgical treatment for an acute cervical spinal injury with neurologic deficit at two institutions between March 1989 and May 1991 were reviewed retrospectively. Forty-three patients initially were evaluated. At one institution, patients with neurologic spinal injuries had surgical intervention within 72 hours of injury. At the other institution, patients underwent immediate closed reduction with subsequent observation of neurologic status for 10 to 14 days before undergoing surgical stabilization. This study indicates that patients who sustain acute traumatic injuries of the cervical spine with associated neurologic deficit may benefit from surgical decompression and stabilization within 72 hours of injury. Surgery within 72 hours of injury in patients sustaining acute cervical spinal injuries with neurologic involvement is not associated with a higher complication rate. Early surgery may improve neurologic recovery and decrease hospitalization time in patients with cervical spinal cord injuries.

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