Acute Spinal Cord Injury: A Study Using Physical Examination and Magnetic Resonance Imaging

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Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was performed on 37 patients with acute spinal injury using T1− and T2-weighted images. Three different types of MRI signal patterns were detected in association with these spinal cord injuries. A classification was developed using these three patterns. Type I, seen in ten (27.0%) of the patients, demonstrated a decreased signal intensity consistent with acute intraspinal hemorrhage. Type II, seen in 16 (43.2%) of the patients, demonstrated a bright signal intensity consistent with acute cord edema. Type III, seen in three (8.1%) of the patients, demonstrated a mixed signal of hypointensity centrally and hyperintensity peripherally consistent with contusion. The remaining eight patients had normal cords by MRI. All 37 patients had an admitting neurologic assessment and classification of their spinal injury according to the Frankel classification and the Trauma Motor Index (TMI). At an average of 12.1 months postinjury, their neurologic function was reassessed. Patients with Type I patterns showed no improvement in their Frankel classification and minimal improvement in their TMI, 32.1 to 42.4. In comparison, all of the Type II and III patterns improved at least one Frankel classification. The Type II TMI increased from 70.8 to 91.9 and Type III from 37.3 to 75.7. This preliminary report indicates a distinct correlation between the pattern of spinal cord injury as identified by MRI and neurologic recovery. It appears that the ability of MRI to aid in examination of the condition of the spinal cord will offer a means of predicting neurologic recovery following acute spinal cord injury.

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