Comparison of medical complications following nontraumatic and traumatic spinal cord injury

J Spinal Cord Med. 2002 Summer;25(2):88-93. doi: 10.1080/10790268.2002.11753607.


Background: Nontraumatic spinal cord injury (NT/SCI) has been shown to represent a significant proportion of individuals admitted for SCI rehabilitation. Although medical complications of patients with traumatic SCI (T/SCI) have been well studied, there is a paucity of literature regarding those with nontraumatic SCI. Our objective was to compare the incidence of secondary SCI medical complications in patients with nontraumatic and traumatic SCI.

Design: A 2-year prospective data comparison of 117 patients with SCI admitted to a regional SCI rehabilitation unit and tertiary university medical center was undertaken. NT/SCI was defined as spinal stenosis, tumorous compression, vascular ischemia, and infectious etiologies.

Methods: Outcome measures included secondary SCI medical complications, injury characteristics, demographics, and rehabilitation outcomes. Statistical analyses were conducted between the 38 NT/SCI and 79 T/SCI who met admission criteria for acute inpatient rehabilitation.

Results: Statistically significant differences (P<.05) between nontraumatic and traumatic SCI were noted for deep venous thrombosis (7.9% vs 22.8%), pressure ulcers (21.1% vs 41.8%), autonomic dysreflexia (0% vs 24.1%), pneumonia (2.6% vs 26.6%), orthostatic hypotension (5.3% vs 36.7%), spasticity (21.1% vs 44.3%), and wound infections (16% vs 3%). Similar incidences were found for depression (23.7% vs 26.6%), urinary tract infections (52.6% vs 67.1%), heterotopic ossification (2.6% vs 7.6%), pain at admission (55.3% vs 62.0%), and gastrointestinal bleed (2.6% vs 2.5%). In addition, significant differences were noted between NT/SCI and T/SCI for age (55 years vs 39 years), rehabilitation length of stay (26.4 days vs 43.0 days), and neurologically complete injury (5.3% vs 45.6%).

Conclusion: This study indicates that patients with NT/SCI present with different incidences of secondary SCI medical complications when compared with individuals with T/SCI. These data, along with differences in demographics, clinical presentation, and rehabilitation outcomes, have important implications for the medical, rehabilitation management, and long-term outcome of individuals with NT/SCI.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Length of Stay
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / complications*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / rehabilitation*
  • Spinal Diseases / complications*
  • Spinal Diseases / rehabilitation*
  • Time Factors
  • Trauma Severity Indices