During the past three decades, significant advances have been made in the surgical treatment of the diseases affecting the aorta. Despite these important advances, paraplegia remains a devastating complication of the surgical procedures on the thoracic and thoracoabdominal aorta. Paraparesis and paraplegia occur as a direct result of the interruption of blood flow to the spinal cord during the surgical procedures. A number of techniques have been advocated for the prevention of spinal cord ischemic injury. This article critically reviews our current understanding of the extent of this problem, the mechanism of injury, and the methods that have been devised to reduce the frequency of paraplegia following surgical procedures on the descending aorta.