Time Course of Respiratory Dysfunction and Motor Paralysis for 12 Weeks in Cervical Spinal Cord Injury without Bone Injury

Spine Surg Relat Res. 2018 Jul 25;3(1):37-42. doi: 10.22603/ssrr.2018-0009. eCollection 2019 Jan 25.


Introduction: Cervical spinal cord injury without bone injury (SCIWOBI) is a common cervical injury in the elderly population and is most likely to occur at the C3/C4 level. Respiratory dysfunction (RD) related to the damage of the spinal respiratory center, which is close to the C4 segment, is one of the greatest obstacles in improving the activities of daily living of patients with severe paralysis. We evaluated the time course of RD and motor function in cervical SCIWOBI to identify effective medical strategies.

Methods: We followed 54 patients (49 men, 5 women; mean age: 65 years old) who were treated for SCIWOBI at our medical center from 2011 to 2014. The patients were evaluated within 72 hours of injury and were monitored for at least 12 weeks. All patients began respiratory-muscle training the day after admission regardless of whether they were treated conservatively or surgically. The percent vital capacity (%VC), forced expiratory volume (FEV) in one second/forced vital capacity ratio (FEV 1.0%), and American Spinal Injury Association motor score (MS) were recorded at admission and again at weeks 4 and 12. We calculated the %VC rate of change and the MS improvement rate over the entire period.

Results: Fifty patients (92.6%) had restrictive ventilatory impairment at admission. The %VC correlated with the upper- and lower-limb MSs at admission, and the %VC and upper- and lower-limb MSs had improved by weeks 4 and 12 after the injury. The %VC rate of change was significantly correlated with the rate of improvement in lower-limb MS throughout the entire period.

Conclusions: Lung capacity decreased in SCIWOBI owing to respiratory-muscle paralysis and upper- and lower-limb motor paralyses. Lung capacity improved as the lower limbs recovered their motor function. Respiratory rehabilitation should be continued for at least 12 weeks after SCIWOBI.

Keywords: Spinal cord injury without bone injury (SCIWOBI); respiratory dysfunction; respiratory rehabilitation.