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This article is the author’s final published version in Global Spine Journal, Volume 10, Issue 1 (Supplement 1), January 2020, Pages 84S-91S.

The published version is available at Copyright © Wilson et al.


Study Design: Narrative review.

Objective: There is a strong biological rationale to perform early decompression after traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI). With an enlarging clinical evidence base, most spine surgeons internationally now favor early decompression for the majority of SCI patients; however, a number of pertinent questions remain surrounding this therapy.

Methods: A narrative review evaluating the status of early surgery for SCI. In particular, we addressed the following questions: (1) Which patients stand to benefit most from early surgery? 2) What is the most appropriate time threshold defining early surgery?

Results: Although heterogeneity exists, the evidence generally seems to support early surgery. While the best evidence exists for cervical SCI, there is insufficient data to support a differential effect for early surgery depending on neurological level or injury severity. When comparing thresholds to define early versus late surgery-including a later threshold (48-72 hours), an earlier threshold (24 hours), and an ultra-early threshold (8-12 hours)-the 2 earlier time points seem to be associated with the greatest potential for improved outcomes. However, existing prehospital and hospital logistics pose barriers to early surgery in a significant proportion of patients. An overview of recommendations from the recent AOSpine guidelines is provided.

Conclusion: In spite of increasing acceptance of early surgery post SCI, further research is needed to (1) identify subgroups of patients who stand to derive particular benefit-in particular to develop more evidence-based approaches for central cord syndrome and (2) investigate the efficacy and feasibility of ultra-early surgery targeting more aggressive timelines.

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

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