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Assessment and immediate management of spinal cord injury 

Assessment and immediate management of spinal cord injury
Assessment and immediate management of spinal cord injury

Simon Finfer

and Oliver Flower

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date: 29 June 2022

Spinal cord injury is a potentially devastating injury, which may occur in isolation, but more commonly occurs in the setting of multiple injuries. Motor vehicle accidents and falls are the most common causes. Depending on the level of the injury and its completeness, patients may be left with paraplegia or tetraplegia. The injury may be immediately obvious based on history and clinical examination, but may have to be actively excluded in multiply-injured patients. Thoracolumbar spine fractures are almost always evident on plain X-rays, whereas computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is frequently required to exclude cervical spine injuries. Immediate management should be directed at the detection and treatment of life-threatening injuries. Patients should be transferred to a facility specializing in the management of spinal cord injury as soon as feasible. Acute management of the spinal injury itself is largely supportive and aimed at avoiding preventable secondary injury. Respiratory complications are common, and high thoracic or cervical injuries may lead to neurogenic shock. Early identification of the injury and appropriate management results in improved outcome, reducing disability and costs of long-term management.

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