Early versus late surgical decompression for patients with acute traumatic central cord syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Shahab Aldin Sattari, Albert Antar, John N. Theodore, Andrew M. Hersh, Abdel Hameed Al-Mistarehi, A. Daniel Davidar, Carly Weber-Levine, Tej D. Azad, Wuyang Yang, James Feghali, Risheng Xu, Amir Manbachi, Daniel Lubelski, Chetan Bettegowda, Louis Chang, Timothy Witham, Allan Belzberg, Nicholas Theodore

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


BACKGROUND CONTEXT: The optimal decompression time for patients presenting with acute traumatic central cord syndrome (ATCCS) has been debated, and a high level of evidence is lacking. PURPOSE: To compare early (<24 hours) versus late (≥24 hours) surgical decompression for ATCCS. STUDY DESIGN: Systematic review and meta-analysis. METHODS: Medline, PubMed, Embase, and CENTRAL were searched from inception to March 15th, 2023. The primary outcome was American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) motor score. Secondary outcomes were venous thromboembolism (VTE), total complications, overall mortality, hospital length of stay (LOS), and ICU LOS. The GRADE approach determined certainty in evidence. RESULTS: The nine studies included reported on 5,619 patients, of whom 2,099 (37.35%) underwent early decompression and 3520 (62.65%) underwent late decompression. The mean age (53.3 vs 56.2 years, p=.505) and admission ASIA motor score (mean difference [MD]=−0.31 [−3.61, 2.98], p=.85) were similar between the early and late decompression groups. At 6-month follow-up, the two groups were similar in ASIA motor score (MD= −3.30 [−8.24, 1.65], p=.19). However, at 1-year follow-up, the early decompression group had a higher ASIA motor score than the late decompression group in total (MD=4.89 [2.89, 6.88], p<.001, evidence: moderate), upper extremities (MD=2.59 [0.82, 4.36], p=.004) and lower extremities (MD=1.08 [0.34, 1.83], p=.004). Early decompression was also associated with lower VTE (odds ratio [OR]=0.41 [0.26, 0.65], p=.001, evidence: moderate), total complications (OR=0.53 [0.42, 0.67], p<.001, evidence: moderate), and hospital LOS (MD=−2.94 days [−3.83, −2.04], p<.001, evidence: moderate). Finally, ICU LOS (MD=−0.69 days [−1.65, 0.28], p=.16, evidence: very low) and overall mortality (OR=1.35 [0.93, 1.94], p=.11, evidence: moderate) were similar between the two groups. CONCLUSIONS: The meta-analysis of these studies demonstrated that early decompression was beneficial in terms of ASIA motor score, VTE, complications, and hospital LOS. Furthermore, early decompression did not increase mortality odds. Although treatment decision-making has been individualized, early decompression should be considered for patients presenting with ATCCS, provided that the surgeon deems it appropriate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)435-445
Number of pages11
JournalSpine Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2024


  • Central cord syndrome
  • Decompression
  • Injury
  • Meta-analysis
  • Spine
  • Surgery
  • Trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Surgery
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine

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