Late recovery following spinal cord injury. Case report and review of the literature.

John W. McDonald, Daniel Becker, Cristina L. Sadowsky, John A. Jane, Thomas E. Conturo, Linda M. Schultz

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113 Scopus citations

Abstract

The authors of this prospective, single-case study evaluated the potential for functional recovery from chronic spinal cord injury (SCI). The patient was motor complete with minimal and transient sensory perception in the left hemibody. His condition was classified as C-2 American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) Grade A and he had experienced no substantial recovery in the first 5 years after traumatic SCI. Clinical experience and evidence from the scientific literature suggest that further recovery would not take place. When the study began in 1999, the patient was tetraplegic and unable to breathe without assisted ventilation; his condition classification persisted as C-2 ASIA Grade A. Magnetic resonance imaging revealed severe injury at the C-2 level that had left a central fluid-filled cyst surrounded by a narrow donutlike rim of white matter. Five years after the injury a program known as "activity-based recovery" was instituted. The hypothesis was that patterned neural activity might stimulate the central nervous system to become more functional, as it does during development. Over a 3-year period (5-8 years after injury), the patient's condition improved from ASIA Grade A to ASIA Grade C, an improvement of two ASIA grades. Motor scores improved from 0/100 to 20/100, and sensory scores rose from 5-7/112 to 58-77/112. Using electromyography, the authors documented voluntary control over important muscle groups, including the right hemidiaphragm (C3-5), extensor carpi radialis (C-6), and vastus medialis (L2-4). Reversal of osteoporosis and an increase in muscle mass was associated with this recovery. Moreover, spasticity decreased, the incidence of medical complications fell dramatically, and the incidence of infections and use of antibiotic medications was reduced by over 90%. These improvements occurred despite the fact that less than 25 mm2 of tissue (approximately 25%) of the outer cord (presumably white matter) had survived at the injury level. The primary novelty of this report is the demonstration that substantial recovery of function (two ASIA grades) is possible in a patient with severe C-2 ASIA Grade A injury, long after the initial SCI. Less severely injured (lower injury level, clinically incomplete lesions) individuals might achieve even more meaningful recovery. The role of patterned neural activity in regeneration and recovery of function after SCI therefore appears a fruitful area for future investigation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)252-265
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of neurosurgery
Volume97
Issue number2 Suppl
StatePublished - Sep 2002

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    McDonald, J. W., Becker, D., Sadowsky, C. L., Jane, J. A., Conturo, T. E., & Schultz, L. M. (2002). Late recovery following spinal cord injury. Case report and review of the literature. Journal of neurosurgery, 97(2 Suppl), 252-265.