Variability in the treatment of acute spinal cord injury in the United Kingdom: results of a national survey

J Neurotrauma. 2012 Mar 20;29(5):880-8. doi: 10.1089/neu.2011.2038. Epub 2011 Oct 26.


The aim of this study was to examine how traumatic spinal cord injury is managed in the United Kingdom via a questionnaire survey of all neurosurgical units. We contacted consultant neurosurgeons and neuroanesthetists in all neurosurgical centers that manage patients with acute spinal cord injury. Two clinical scenarios-of complete and incomplete cervical spinal cord injuries-were given to determine local treatment policies. There were 175 responders from the 33 centers (36% response rate). We ascertained neurosurgical views on urgency of transfer, timing of surgery, nature and aim of surgery, as well as neuroanesthetic views on type of anesthetic, essential intraoperative monitoring, drug treatment, and intensive care management. Approximately 70% of neurosurgeons will admit patients with incomplete spinal cord injury immediately, but only 40% will admit patients with complete spinal cord injury immediately. There is no consensus on the timing or even the role of surgery for incomplete or complete injuries. Most (96%) neuroanesthetists avoid anesthetics known to elevate intracranial pressure. What was deemed essential intraoperative monitoring, however, varied widely. Many (22%) neuroanesthetists do not routinely measure arterial blood pressure invasively, central venous pressure (85%), or cardiac output (94%) during surgery. There is no consensus among neuroanesthetists on the optimal levels of arterial blood pressure, or oxygen and carbon dioxide partial arterial pressure. We report wide variability among U.K. neurosurgeons and neuroanesthetists in their treatment of acute traumatic spinal cord injury. Our findings reflect the lack of Class 1 evidence that early surgical decompression and intensive medical management of patients with spinal cord injury improves neurological outcome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Neurology / standards*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / therapy*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United Kingdom