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Spinal Cord Injuries Gabriel C. Tender, MD Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurosurgery, Louisiana State University in New Orleans Staff Neurosurgeon,

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Presentation on theme: "Spinal Cord Injuries Gabriel C. Tender, MD Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurosurgery, Louisiana State University in New Orleans Staff Neurosurgeon,"— Presentation transcript:

1 Spinal Cord Injuries Gabriel C. Tender, MD Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurosurgery, Louisiana State University in New Orleans Staff Neurosurgeon, Touro Infirmary and West Jefferson Medical Center

2 Basic Anatomy and Physiology

3 What is the anatomy of the spinal cord on cross section?




7 What are the clinically important ascending tracts and where do they cross over?

8 What are the clinically important descending tracts and where do they cross over?

9 At what level does the spinal cord end and why is it important?

10 What are the differences between UMN and LMN? (e.g., cauda equina vs. myelopathy)


12 Acute vs. chronic injuries; complete vs. incomplete injuries “Acute”=sudden onset of symptoms “Complete” ?

13 What is a complete spinal cord injury? “Complete” = absence of sensory and motor function in the perianal area (S4-S5)

14 Terminology Plegia = complete lesion Paresis = some muscle strength is preserved Tetraplegia (or quadriplegia) Injury of the cervical spinal cord Patient can usually still move his arms using the segments above the injury (e.g., in a C7 injury, the patient can still flex his forearms, using the C5 segment) Paraplegia Injury of the thoracic or lumbo-sacral cord, or cauda equina Hemiplegia Paralysis of one half of the body Usually in brain injuries (e.g., stroke)

15 Motor: how do you test each segment?

16 Motor: how do you grade the strength?

17 Sensory: how do you determine the level?

18 What are the important vegetative functions and when are they affected?

19 Reflexes Deep Tendon Reflexes Arm Bicipital: C5 Styloradial: C6 Tricipital: C7 Leg Patellar: L3, some L4 Achilles: S1 Pathological reflexes Babinski (UMN lesion) Hoffman (UMN lesion at or above cervical spinal cord) Clonus (plantar or patellar) (long standing UMN lesion)

20 What is and how do you determine the level of injury? Motor level = the last level with at least 3/5 (against gravity) function NB: this is the most important for clinical purposes Sensory level = the last level with preserved sensation Radiographic level = the level of fracture on plain XRays / CT scan / MRI NB: spine level does not correspond to spinal cord level below the cervical region

21 Case scenario 25 y/o white male Fell off the roof (20 feet) Had to be intubated at the scene by EMS Consciousness regained shortly thereafter Could not move arms or legs Could close and open eyes to command Not able to breathe by himself–totally dependent on mechanical ventilation

22 High cervical injuries (C3 and above) Motor and sensory deficits involve the entire arms and legs Dependent on mechanical ventilation for breathing (diaphragm is innervated by C3-C5 levels)

23 Case scenario 19 y/o white male Diving accident (shallow water) No loss of consciousness Could not understand why he could not move his legs, forearms and hands (he could shrug shoulders and elevate arms) BP 75/40, HR 54/’ Had difficulties breathing and required intubation a few hours after the accident

24 Midcervical injuries (C3-C5) Varying degrees of diaphragm dysfunction Usually need ventilatory assistance in the acute phase Shock

25 What is the difference between spinal shock and neurogenic shock? Spinal shock is mainly a loss of reflexes (flaccid paralysis) Neurogenic shock is mainly hypotension and bradycardia due to loss of sympathetic tone

26 Neurogenic shock Seen in cervical injuries Due to interruption of the sympathetic input from hypothalamus to the cardiovascular centers Hallmark: hypotension (due to vasodilation, due to loss of sympathetic tonic input) is associated with bradycardia (not tachycardia, the usual response), due to inability to convey the information to the vasomotor centers in the spinal cord

27 Low cervical injuries (C6-T1) Usually able to breathe, although occasionally cord swelling can lead to temporary C3-C5 involvement (need mechanical ventilation) The level can be determined by physical exam

28 So what do you expect with a cervical lesion? Quadriplegia or quadriparesis Bowel/bladder retention (spastic) Various degrees of breathing difficulties Neurogenic and/or spinal shock

29 Case scenario 22 y/o Hispanic female Motor vehicle accident (hit a pole at 60mph) + for ETOH and THC Short term loss of consciousness (10’) Not able to move or feel her legs DTRs 2+ in BUE, 0 in BLE No bladder / bowel control or sensation Sensory level at the umbilicus

30 Thoracic injuries (T2-L1) Paraparesis or paraplegia UMN (upper motor neuron) signs

31 Case scenario 22 y/o African-American female Motor vehicle accident Not able to move or feel her legs below the knee Could flex thighs against gravity DTRs 2+ in BUE, 0 in BLE No bladder / bowel control or sensation Sensory level above the knee on L, below the knee on R

32 Cauda equina injuries (L2 or below) Paraparesis or paraplegia LMN (lower motor neuron) signs Thigh flexion is almost always preserved to some degree

33 What is the difference between cauda equina and conus medullaris syndrome?

34 What is an incomplete lesion?

35 What is the central cord syndrome? Cervical spinal cord involvement with arms more affected than legs May occur with trauma, tumors, infections, etc Traumatic lesions tend to improve in 1-2 weeks Surgical decompression may be indicated if there is spinal stenosis

36 Brown-Sequard syndrome

37 Initial Management Immobilization Rigid collar Sandbags and straps Spine board Log-roll to turn Prevent hypotension Pressors: Dopamine, not Neosynephrine Fluids to replace losses; do not overhydrate Maintain oxygenation O2 per nasal canula If intubation is needed, do NOT move the neck

38 Management in the hospital NGT to suction Prevents aspiration Decompresses the abdomen (paralytic ileus is common in the first days) Foley Urinary retention is common Methylprednisolone (Solu-Medrol) Only if started within 8 hours of injury Exclusion criteria Cauda equina syndrome GSW Pregnancy Age <13 years Patient on maintenance steroids

39 CT scan Good in acute situations Shows bone very well Sagittal reconstruction is mandatory Soft tissues (discs, spinal cord) are poorly visualized Do NOT give contrast in trauma patients (contrast is bright, mimicking blood)

40 MRI Almost never an emergency Exception: cauda equina syndrome Shows tumors and soft tissues (e.g., herniated discs) much better than CT scan May be used to clear c-spine in comatose patients

41 Lumbar Puncture Sedate the patient and make your life easier Measure opening pressure with legs straight Always get head CT prior to LP to r/o increased ICP or brain tumor

42 Cervical Spine Clearance Occiput to T1 need to be cleared ER, Neurosurgery or Orthopedics physician If the patient Is awake and oriented Has no distracting injuries Has no drugs on board Has no neck pain Is neurologically intact then the c-spine can be cleared clinically, without any need for XRays CT and/or MRI is necessary if the patient is comatose or has neck pain Subluxation >3.5mm is usually unstable

43 Cervical Traction Gardner-Wells tongs Provides temporary stability of the cervical spine Contraindicated in unstable hyperextension injuries Weight depends on the level (usually 5lb/level, start with 3lb/level, do not exceed 10lb/level) Cervical collar can be removed while patient is in traction Pin care: clean q shift with appropriate solution, then apply povidone-iodine ointment Take XRays at regular intervals and after every move from bed

44 Gardner-Wells tongs

45 Surgical Decompression and/or Fusion Indications Decompression of the neural elements (spinal cord/nerves) Stabilization of the bony elements (spine) Timing Emergent Incomplete lesions with progressive neurologic deficit Elective Complete lesions (3-7 days post injury) Central cord syndrome (2-3 weeks post injury)

46 Soft and hard collars

47 Minerva vest and halo-vest

48 Long term care Rehab for maximizing motor function Bladder/bowel training Psychological and social support


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