What is the prognosis of spinal cord injury (SCI)?

Updated: Nov 01, 2018
  • Author: Lawrence S Chin, MD, FACS, FAANS; Chief Editor: Brian H Kopell, MD  more...
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Patients with a complete spinal cord injury (SCI) have a less than 5% chance of recovery. If complete paralysis persists at 72 hours after injury, recovery is essentially zero. In the early 1900s, the mortality rate 1 year after injury in patients with complete lesions approached 100%. Much of the improvement since then can be attributed to the introduction of antibiotics to treat pneumonia and urinary tract infection (UTI).

The prognosis is much better for the incomplete cord syndromes.

If some sensory function is preserved, the chance that the patient will eventually be able walk is greater than 50%.

Ultimately, 90% of patients with spinal cord injury return to their homes and regain independence.

Providing an accurate prognosis for the patient with an acute SCI usually is not possible in the emergency department (ED) and is best avoided.

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