• Vol. 36 No. 1, 49–57
  • 15 January 2007

Recovery and Regeneration after Spinal Cord Injury: A Review and Summary of Recent Literature



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Introduction: Spinal cord injury (SCI) often results in significant neurologic dysfunction and disability. An annual incidence of 15 to 40 traumatic SCI cases per million population has been reported worldwide, and a conservative estimate for Singapore would be 23 cases per million. With continued improvements in medical care, an increasing prevalence of SCI patients is expected, with corresponding need for comprehensive rehabilitation services led by specialist rehabilitation physicians. Methods: A literature search, review, and summary of findings of recent studies relating to factors associated with recovery, as well as interventions for rehabilitation and promotion of healing of the injured spinal cord was performed. Conclusions: Many SCI patients show improvements in motoric and neurologic level, but those with complete injuries have poor chance of improving American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) scores. SCI of violent aetiology tends to be more neurologic complete, and those without sacral sparing less likely to improve. Older patients generally do well in activities of daily living. Women have better motor score improvement, although men have better Functional Independence Measure (FIM) scores generally. Electrodiagnostic tests such as somatosensory evoked potentials (SSEPs) and motor evoked potentials (MEPs) can help with prognostication, as can imaging techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Immediate surgery for spinal decompression may improve recovery, but whether routine surgery after SCI improves function remains unclear, as does the timing. Methylprednisolone and similar agents appear to help limit secondary injury processes. Rehabilitation interventions such as functional electrical stimulation (FES) and body-weight supported treadmill ambulation training may be effective, as may neural-controlled prostheses and devices. Substances that promote repair and regeneration of the injured spinal cord such as GM-1, 4-AP, BDNG, GDNF, Nogo and MAG-inhibitors, have been studied. Transplanted tissues and cells, such as blood macrophages, bone marrow transplant with GM-CSF, olfactory ensheathing cells, fetal tissues, stem or progenitor cells, have been reported to produce neurological improvements.

Spinal cord injury (SCI), whether of traumatic or non-traumatic aetiology, often results in significant and catastrophic dysfunction and disability. It physically and psychologically affects not only the individual, but also the family and society. Early rehabilitation in an organised multidisciplinary SCI care system has been shown to be beneficial, with lower mortality, decreased pressure sores, slightly greater chance of neurologic recovery, and shorter lengths of stay with lower hospital charges.1 Nevertheless, continued functional dependency, healthcare needs and costs, as well as caregiver burden and stress often remain tremendous. Not surprisingly, there is a constant search for ways and means to enhance recovery and cure SCI.

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