Early decompression following cervical spinal cord injury: Examining the process of care from accident scene to surgery

Camila R. Battistuzzo, Alex Armstrong, Jillian Clark, Laura Worley, Lisa Sharwood, Peny Lin, Gareth Rooke, Peta Skeers, Sherilyn Nolan, Timothy Geraghty, Andrew Nunn, Doug J. Brown, Steven Hill, Janette Alexander, Melinda Millard, Susan F. Cox, Sudhakar Rao, Ann Watts, Louise Goods, Garry T. AllisonJacqui Agostinello, Peter A. Cameron, Ian Mosley, Susan M. Liew, Tom Geddes, James Middleton, John Buchanan, Jeffrey V. Rosenfeld, Stephen Bernard, Sridhar Atresh, Alpesh Patel, Rowan Schouten, Brian J C Freeman, Sarah A. Dunlop, Peter E. Batchelor

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16 Citations (Scopus)


Early decompression may improve neurological outcome after spinal cord injury (SCI), but is often difficult to achieve because of logistical issues. The aims of this study were to 1) determine the time to decompression in cases of isolated cervical SCI in Australia and New Zealand and 2) determine where substantial delays occur as patients move from the accident scene to surgery. Data were extracted from medical records of patients aged 15-70 years with C3-T1 traumatic SCI between 2010 and 2013. A total of 192 patients were included. The median time from accident scene to decompression was 21 h, with the fastest times associated with closed reduction (6 h). A significant decrease in the time to decompression occurred from 2010 (31 h) to 2013 (19 h, p = 0.008). Patients undergoing direct surgical hospital admission had a significantly lower time to decompression, compared with patients undergoing pre-surgical hospital admission (12 h vs. 26 h, p <0.0001). Medical stabilization and radiological investigation appeared not to influence the timing of surgery. The time taken to organize the operating theater following surgical hospital admission was a further factor delaying decompression (12.5 h). There was a relationship between the timing of decompression and the proportion of patients demonstrating substantial recovery (2-3 American Spinal Injury Association Impairment Scale grades). In conclusion, the time of cervical spine decompression markedly improved over the study period. Neurological recovery appeared to be promoted by rapid decompression. Direct surgical hospital admission, rapid organization of theater, and where possible, use of closed reduction, are likely to be effective strategies to reduce the time to decompression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1161-1169
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Neurotrauma
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • decompression
  • process of care
  • spinal cord injury
  • spine surgery

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