What is the role of spinal shock in the pathophysiology of spinal cord injury (SCI)?

Updated: Nov 01, 2018
  • Author: Lawrence S Chin, MD, FACS; Chief Editor: Brian H Kopell, MD  more...
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Answer

Shock associated with a spinal cord injury involving the lower thoracic cord must be considered hemorrhagic until proven otherwise. In this article, spinal shock is defined as the complete loss of all neurologic function, including reflexes and rectal tone, below a specific level that is associated with autonomic dysfunction. That is, spinal shock is a state of transient physiologic (rather than anatomic) reflex depression of cord function below the level of injury, with associated loss of all sensorimotor functions.

An initial increase in blood pressure due to the release of catecholamines, followed by hypotension, is noted. Flaccid paralysis, including of the bowel and bladder, is observed, and sometimes sustained priapism develops. These symptoms tend to last several hours to days until the reflex arcs below the level of the injury begin to function again (eg, bulbocavernosus reflex, muscle stretch reflex [MSR]).


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