The role of acute decompression and restoration of spinal alignment in the prevention of post-traumatic syringomyelia: case report and review of recent literature.

R. S. Bains, P. L. Althausen, G. N. Gitlin, M. C. Gupta, D. R. Benson

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25 Scopus citations


STUDY DESIGN: Case report. INTRODUCTION: Acute post-traumatic syringomyelia formation after spinal cord injury has been considered a rare complication. At this writing, most recent reports have surfaced in neurosurgical journals. As an entity, post-traumatic syringomyelia has not been widely appreciated. It has been confused with conditions such as Hansen's disease or ulnar nerve compression at the cubital tunnel. One study also demonstrated that the occurrence of syrinx is significantly correlated with spinal stenosis after treatment, and that an inadequate reduction of the spine may lead to the formation of syrinx. This reported case describes a patient in whom post-traumatic syringomyelia began to develop 3 weeks after injury, which improved neurologically after adequate decompression. SUMMARY OF BACKGROUND DATA: A 30-year-old man sustained a 20-foot fall at work. He presented with a complete spinal cord injury below T4 secondary to a T4 fracture dislocation. The patient underwent open reduction and internal fixation of T1-T8. After 3 weeks, the patient was noted to have ascending weakness in his bilateral upper extremities and some clawing of both hands. METHODS: A computed tomography myelogram demonstrated inability of contrast to pass through the T4-T5 region from a lumbar puncture. An incomplete reduction was noted. The canal showed significant stenosis. A magnetic resonance image of the patient's C-spine showed increased signal in the substance of the cord extending into the C1-C2 area. The patient returned to the operating room for T3-T5 decompressive laminectomy and posterolateral decompression including the pedicles, disc, and posterior aspect of the body. Intraoperative ultrasound monitoring showed a good flow of cerebrospinal fluid past the injured segment. RESULTS: On postoperative day 1, the clawing posture of the patient's hands was significantly diminished, and the patient noted an immediate improvement in his hand and arm strength. Over the next few days, the patient's strength in the bilateral upper extremities increased to motor Grade 4/5 on manual testing. A magnetic resonance image 4 weeks after decompression showed significant improvement in the cord diameter and signal. CONCLUSIONS: Post-traumatic syringomyelia has not been reported at so early a stage after injury. This disorder is an important clinical entity that must be recognized to prevent potentially fatal or devastating complications. As evidenced by the reported patient and the literature, if this disorder is discovered and treated early, permanent deficit can be avoided. The prevention of post-traumatic syringomyelia requires anatomic realignment and stabilization of the spine without stenosis, even in the case of complete injuries, to maintain the proper dynamics of cerebrospinal fluid flow.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E399-402
Issue number17
StatePublished - Sep 1 2001


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