Ambulatory function in motor incomplete spinal cord injury: a magnetic resonance imaging study of spinal cord edema and lower extremity muscle morphometry

Spinal Cord. 2017 Jul;55(7):672-678. doi: 10.1038/sc.2017.18. Epub 2017 Feb 28.


Study design: This research utilized a cross-sectional design.

Objectives: Spinal cord edema length has been measured with T2-weighted sagittal MRI to predict motor recovery following spinal cord injury. The purpose of our study was to establish the correlational value of axial spinal cord edema using T2-weighted MRI. We hypothesized a direct relationship between the size of damage on axial MRI and walking ability, motor function and distal muscle changes seen in motor incomplete spinal cord injury (iSCI).

Setting: University-based laboratory in Chicago, IL, USA.

Methods: Fourteen participants with iSCI took part in the study. Spinal cord axial damage ratios were assessed using axial T2-weighted MRI. Walking ability was investigated using the 6-min walk test and daily stride counts. Maximum plantarflexion torque was quantified using isometric dynomometry. Muscle fat infiltration (MFI) and relative muscle cross-sectional area (rmCSA) were quantified using fat/water separation magnetic resonance imaging.

Results: Damage ratios were negatively correlated with distance walked in 6 min, average daily strides and maximum plantarflexion torque, and a negative linear trend was found between damage ratios and lower leg rmCSA. While damage ratios were not significantly correlated with MFI, we found significantly higher MFI in the wheelchair user participant group compared to community walkers.

Conclusions: Damage ratios may be useful in prognosis of motor recovery in spinal cord injury. The results warrant a large multi-site research study to investigate the value of high-resolution axial T2-weighted imaging to predict walking recovery following motor incomplete spinal cord injury.

MeSH terms

  • Accelerometry
  • Adipose Tissue / diagnostic imaging
  • Adipose Tissue / physiopathology
  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Edema / diagnostic imaging*
  • Edema / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lower Extremity / diagnostic imaging*
  • Lower Extremity / physiopathology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle, Skeletal / diagnostic imaging*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology
  • Organ Size
  • Prognosis
  • Recovery of Function
  • Spinal Cord / diagnostic imaging*
  • Spinal Cord / physiopathology
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / diagnostic imaging*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / physiopathology
  • Walk Test
  • Walking*