Combined medical and surgical treatment after acute spinal cord injury: results of a prospective pilot study to assess the merits of aggressive medical resuscitation and blood pressure management

J Neurosurg. 1997 Aug;87(2):239-46. doi: 10.3171/jns.1997.87.2.0239.


The optimal management of acute spinal cord injuries remains to be defined. The authors prospectively applied resuscitation principles of volume expansion and blood pressure maintenance to 77 patients who presented with acute neurological deficits as a result of spinal cord injuries occurring from C-1 through T-12 in an effort to maintain spinal cord blood flow and prevent secondary injury. According to the Intensive Care Unit protocol, all patients were managed by using Swan-Ganz and arterial blood pressure catheters and were treated with immobilization and fracture reduction as indicated. Intravenous fluids, colloid, and vasopressors were administered as necessary to maintain mean arterial blood pressure above 85 mm Hg. Surgery was performed for decompression and stabilization, and fusion in selected cases. Sixty-four patients have been followed at least 12 months postinjury by means of detailed neurological assessments and functional ability evaluations. Sixty percent of patients with complete cervical spinal cord injuries improved at least one Frankel or American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) grade at the last follow-up review. Thirty percent regained the ability to walk and 20% had return of bladder function 1 year postinjury. Thirty-three percent of the patients with complete thoracic spinal cord injuries improved at least one Frankel or ASIA grade. Approximately 10% of the patients regained the ability to walk and had return of bladder function. As of the 12-month follow-up review, 92% of patients demonstrated clinical improvement after sustaining incomplete cervical spinal cord injuries compared to their initial neurological status. Ninety-two percent regained the ability to walk and 88% regained bladder function. Eighty-eight percent of patients with incomplete thoracic spinal cord injuries demonstrated significant improvements in neurological function 1 year postinjury. Eighty-eight percent were able to walk and 63% had return of bladder function. The authors conclude that the enhanced neurological outcome that was observed in patients after spinal cord injury in this study was in addition to, and/or distinct from, any potential benefit provided by surgery. Early and aggressive medical management (volume resuscitation and blood pressure augmentation) of patients with acute spinal cord injuries optimizes the potential for neurological recovery after sustaining trauma.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Blood Pressure / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pilot Projects
  • Prospective Studies
  • Resuscitation*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / surgery*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / therapy*
  • Time Factors