CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 · J Neurol Surg A Cent Eur Neurosurg 2023; 84(02): 144-156
DOI: 10.1055/s-0041-1740379
Original Article

Predicting the Role of Preoperative Intramedullary Lesion Length and Early Decompressive Surgery in ASIA Impairment Scale Grade Improvement Following Subaxial Traumatic Cervical Spinal Cord Injury

1   Department of Neurosurgery, Escorts Hospital, Amritsar, Punjab, India
Himanshu Verma
1   Department of Neurosurgery, Escorts Hospital, Amritsar, Punjab, India
Sunil Narasimhaiah
1   Department of Neurosurgery, Escorts Hospital, Amritsar, Punjab, India
Suruchi Chopra
2   Department of Radiology, Escorts Hospital, Amritsar, Punjab, India
› Author Affiliations


Background Traumatic cervical spinal cord injury (TCSCI) is a disabling condition with uncertain neurologic recovery. Clinical and preclinical studies have suggested early surgical decompression and other measures of neuroprotection improve neurologic outcome. We investigated the role of intramedullary lesion length (IMLL) on preoperative magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and the effect of early cervical decompressive surgery on ASIA impairment scale (AIS) grade improvement following TCSCI.

Methods In this retrospective study, we investigated 34 TCSCI patients who were admitted over a 12-year period, from January 1, 2008 to January 31, 2020. We studied the patient demographics, mode of injury, IMLL and timing of surgical decompression. The IMLL is defined as the total length of edema and contusion/hemorrhage within the cord. Short tau inversion recovery (STIR) sequences or T2-weighted MR imaging with fat saturation increases the clarity of edema and depicts abnormalities in the spinal cord. All patients included had confirmed adequate spinal cord decompression with cervical fixation and a follow-up of at least 6 months.

Results Of the 34 patients, 16 patients were operated on within 24 hours (early surgery group) and 18 patients were operated on more than 24 hours after trauma (delayed surgery group). In the early surgery group, 13 (81.3%) patients had improvement of at least one AIS grade, whereas in the delayed surgery group, AIS grade improvement was seen in only in 8 (44.5%) patients (early vs. late surgery; odds ratio [OR] = 1.828; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.036–3.225). In multivariate regression analysis coefficients, the timing of surgery and intramedullary edema length on MRI were the most significant factors in improving the AIS grade following cervical SCI. Timing of surgery as a unique variance predicted AIS grade improvement significantly (p < 0.001). The mean IMLL was 41.47 mm (standard deviation [SD]: 18.35; range: 20–87 mm). IMLL was a predictor of AIS grade improvement on long-term outcome in bivariate analysis (p < 0.001). This study suggests that patients who had IMLL of less than 30 mm had a better chance of grade conversion irrespective of the timing of surgery. Patients with an IMLL of 31 to 60 mm had chances of better grade conversion after early surgery. A longer IMLL predicts lack of improvement (p < 0.05). If the IMLL is greater than 61 mm, the probability of nonconversion of AIS grade is higher, even if the patient is operated on within 24 hours of trauma.

Conclusion Surgical decompression within 24 hours of trauma and shorter preoperative IMLL are significantly associated with improved neurologic outcome, reflected by better AIS grade improvement at 6 months' follow-up. The IMLL on preoperative MRI can reliably predict outcome after 6 months. The present study suggests that patients have lesser chances of AIS grade improvement when the IMLL is ≥61 mm.

Supplementary Material

Publication History

Received: 13 September 2020

Accepted: 15 September 2021

Article published online:
03 June 2022

© 2022. The Author(s). This is an open access article published by Thieme under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonDerivative-NonCommercial License, permitting copying and reproduction so long as the original work is given appropriate credit. Contents may not be used for commercial purposes, or adapted, remixed, transformed or built upon. (

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