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The therapeutic window for spinal cord decompression in a rat spinal cord injury model.

OBJECT: There are no clinically based guidelines to direct the spine surgeon as to the proper timing to undertake decompression after spinal cord injury (SCI) in patients with concomitant stenosis-induced cord compression. The following three factors affect the prognosis: (1) severity of SCI; (2) degree of extrinsic spinal cord compression; and (3) duration of spinal cord compression.

METHODS: To elucidate further the relationship between varying degrees of spinal stenosis and a mild contusion-induced SCI (6.25 g-cm), a rat SCI/stenosis model was developed in which 1.13- and 1.24-mm-thick spacers were placed at T-10 to create 38 and 43% spinal stenosis, respectively. Spinal cord damage was observed after the stenosis-SCI that was directly proportional to the duration of spinal cord compression. The therapeutic window prior to decompression was 6 and 12 hours in the 43 and 38% stenosis-SCI lesions, respectively, to maintain locomotor activity. A significant difference in total lesion volume was observed between the 2-hour and the delayed time(s) to decompression (38% stenosis-SCI, 12 and 24 hours, p < 0.05; 43% stenosis-SCI, 24 hours, p < 0.05) indicating a more favorable neurological outcome when earlier decompression is undertaken. This finding was further supported by the animal's ability to support weight when decompression was performed by 6 or 12 hours compared with 24 hours after SCI.

CONCLUSIONS: Analysis of the findings in this study suggests that early decompression in the rat improves locomotor function. Prolongation of the time to decompression may result in irreversible damage that prevents locomotor recovery.

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