Spinal cord injury without radiographic abnormalities in children

J Neurosurg. 1982 Jul;57(1):114-29. doi: 10.3171/jns.1982.57.1.0114.


Spinal cord injury in children often occurs without evidence of fracture or dislocation. The mechanisms of neural damage in this syndrome of spinal cord injury without radiographic abnormality (SCIWORA) include flexion, hyperextension, longitudinal distraction, and ischemia. Inherent elasticity of the vertebral column in infants and young children, among other age-related anatomical peculiarities, render the pediatric spine exceedingly vulnerable to deforming forces. The neurological lesions encountered in this syndrome include a high incidence of complete and severe partial cord lesions. Children younger than 8 years old sustain more serious neurological damage and suffer a larger number of upper cervical cord lesions than children aged over 8 years. Of the children with SCIWORA, 52% have delayed onset of paralysis up to 4 days after injury, and most of these children recall transient paresthesia, numbness, or subjective paralysis. Management includes tomography and flexion-extension films to rule out incipient instability, and immobilization with a cervical collar. Delayed dynamic films are essential to exclude late instability, which, if present, should be managed with Halo fixation or surgical fusion. The long-term prognosis in cases of SCIWORA is grim. Most children with complete and severe lesions do not recover; only those with initially mild neural injuries make satisfactory neurological recovery.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Aging
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Nervous System / physiopathology
  • Outcome and Process Assessment, Health Care
  • Radiography
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / etiology
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / complications
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / diagnostic imaging*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / physiopathology
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / therapy
  • Time Factors
  • Urinary Tract Infections / etiology*