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This article is the author's final published version in Global Spine Journal, Volume 14, Issue 3 (Suppl.), March 2024, Pages 38S - 57S.

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STUDY DESIGN: Systematic review and meta-analysis.

OBJECTIVE: Surgical decompression is a cornerstone in the management of patients with traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI); however, the influence of the timing of surgery on neurological recovery after acute SCI remains controversial. This systematic review aims to summarize current evidence on the effectiveness, safety, and cost-effectiveness of early (≤24 hours) or late (>24 hours) surgery in patients with acute traumatic SCI for all levels of the spine. Furthermore, this systematic review aims to evaluate the evidence with respect to the impact of ultra-early surgery (earlier than 24 hours from injury) on these outcomes.

METHODS: A systematic search of the literature was performed using the MEDLINE database (PubMed), Cochrane database, and EMBASE. Two reviewers independently screened the citations from the search to determine whether an article satisfied predefined inclusion and exclusion criteria. For all key questions, we focused on primary studies with the least potential for bias and those that controlled for baseline neurological status and specified time from injury to surgery. Risk of bias of each article was assessed using standardized tools based on study design. Finally, the overall strength of evidence for the primary outcomes was assessed using the GRADE approach. Data were synthesized both qualitatively and quantitively using meta-analyses.

RESULTS: Twenty-one studies met inclusion and exclusion criteria and formed the evidence base for this review update. Seventeen studies compared outcomes between patients treated with early (≤24 hours from injury) compared to late (>24 hours) surgical decompression. An additional 4 studies evaluated even earlier time frames:

CONCLUSIONS: This review provides an evidence base to support the update on clinical practice guidelines related to the timing of surgical decompression in acute SCI. Overall, the strength of evidence was moderate that early surgery (≤24 hours from injury) compared to late (>24 hours) results in clinically meaningful improvements in neurological recovery. Further studies are required to delineate the role of ultra-early surgery in patients with acute SCI.

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