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Department of Rehabilitation Medicine

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Characterization of neurological recovery following traumatic sensorimotor complete thoracic spinal cord injury


Zariffa J, Kramer JL, Fawcett JW, Lammertse DP, Blight AR, Guest J, Jones L, Burns S, Schubert M, Bolliger M, Curt A, Steeves JD



Publication Info:

Spinal Cord, 49(3):463-471


STUDY DESIGN: Retrospective, longitudinal analysis of sensory, motor and functional outcomes from individuals with thoracic (T2-T12) sensorimotor complete spinal cord injury (SCI). OBJECTIVES: To characterize neurological changes over the first year after traumatic thoracic sensorimotor complete SCI.
METHODS: A dataset of 399 thoracic complete SCI subjects from the European Multi-center study about SCI (EMSCI) was examined for neurological level, sensory levels and sensory scores (pin-prick and light touch), lower extremity motor score (LEMS), ASIA Impairment Scale (AIS) grade, and Spinal Cord Independence Measure (SCIM) over the first year after SCI.
RESULTS: AIS grade conversions were limited. Sensory scores exhibited minimal mean change, but high variability in both rostral and caudal directions. Pin-prick and light touch sensory levels, as well as neurological level, exhibited minor changes (improvement or deterioration), but most subjects remained within one segment of their initial injury level after 1 year. Recovery of LEMS occurred predominantly in subjects with low thoracic SCI. The sensory zone of partial preservation (ZPP) had no prognostic value for subsequent recovery of sensory levels or LEMS. However, after mid or low thoracic SCI, =3 segments of sensory ZPP correlated with an increased likelihood for AIS grade conversion.
CONCLUSION: The data suggest that a sustained deterioration of three or more thoracic sensory levels or loss of upper extremity motor function are rare events and may be useful for tracking the safety of a therapeutic intervention in early phase acute SCI clinical trials, if a significant proportion of study subjects exhibit such an ascent.

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