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The impact of continued cord compression following traumatic spinal cord injury

Michael G. Fehlings

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Eftekhar Eftekharpour, Soheila Karimi-Abdolrezaee and Michael G. Fehlings

✓ Despite advances in medical and surgical care, the current clinical therapies for spinal cord injury (SCI) are largely ineffective. During the last 2 decades, the search for new therapies has been revolutionized by the discovery of stem cells, which has inspired scientists and clinicians to search for a stem cell–based reparative approaches to many diseases, including neurotrauma. In the present study, the authors briefly summarize current knowledge related to the pathophysiology of SCI, including the concepts of primary and secondary injury and the importance of posttraumatic demyelination. Key inhibitory obstacles that impede axonal regeneration include the glial scar and a number of myelin inhibitory molecules including Nogo. Recent advancements in cell replacement therapy as a therapeutic strategy for SCI are summarized. The strategies include the use of pluripotent human stem cells, embryonic stem cells, and a number of adult-derived stem and progenitor cells such as mesenchymal stem cells, Schwann cells, olfactory ensheathing cells, and adult-derived neural precursor cells. Although current strategies to repair the subacutely injured cord appear promising, many obstacles continue to render the treatment of chronic injuries challenging. Nonetheless, the future for stem cell–based reparative strategies for treating SCI appears bright.

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Michael G. Fehlings, Paul R. Cooper and Thomas J. Errico

✓ Although posterior plates are increasingly used to manage cervical spinal instability, long-term follow-up evaluation of patients with a critical analysis of efficacy and complications has not been reported. The authors have retrospectively analyzed the outcome in 44 consecutive patients (37 males and seven females, age range 16 to 80 years) treated with posterior cervical plates. The indications for instrumentation were instability due to trauma in 42 cases, tumor in one, and infection in one. In four patients the follow-up period was limited to 3, 5, 11, and 16 months. Two patients died of chronic medical problems 4 and 9 months after treatment. The remaining 38 patients were followed from 2 to 6 years (mean 46 months). One motion segment was stabilized in 23 patients using two-hole plates; two motion segments were stabilized in the other 21 patients using three-hole plates. In the majority of patients (37 cases), supplemental bone grafting was not used. Patients were immobilized postoperatively in a Philadelphia collar. Solid arthrodesis was achieved in 39 (93%) of 42 patients. Three patients required revision of the cervical plating: in one patient with a C-5 burst fracture, two-hole plates were applied at C5–6 and progressive kyphosis mandated anterior fusion; the second patient required posterior wiring due to screw pull-out resulting from a technical error in screw insertion; the third patient, who refused to wear an orthosis postoperatively, also developed screw pull-out. In two patients who went on to spinal fusion, there was an increase in sagittal kyphosis (6° and 8°) without clinical sequelae. Screw loosening was noted in five patients, involving eight (3.8%) of the 210 lateral mass screws; this complication resulted in instrumentation failure or increased kyphosis in three cases. There were two superficial infections.

This analysis indicates that posterior cervical plating is highly effective; at long-term follow-up review the cervical spine was successfully stabilized in 93% of cases. Plate failure was related to faulty screw placement, failure to include sufficient motion segments, and noncompliance with postoperative orthoses. Halo vest immobilization was unnecessary and supplemental bone grafting was generally not required for recent trauma.

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Spine trauma: the challenges in assessing outcomes

Michael G. Fehlings and Jefferson R. Wilson

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Nardin Samuel, Christina L. Goldstein, Carlo Santaguida and Michael G. Fehlings

Spinal cord herniation is a relatively rare but increasingly recognized clinical entity, with fewer than 200 cases reported in the literature to date. The etiology of this condition remains unknown, and surgery is used as the primary treatment to correct the herniation and consequent spinal cord compromise. Some patients without clinical progression have been treated with nonoperative measures, including careful follow-up and symptomatic physical therapy. To date, however, there has been no published report on the resolution of spinal cord herniation without surgical intervention.

The patient in the featured case is a 58-year-old man who presented with mild thoracic myelopathy and imaging findings consistent with idiopathic spinal cord herniation. Surprisingly, updated MRI studies, obtained to better delineate the pathology, showed spontaneous resolution of the herniation. Subsequent MRI 6 months later revealed continued resolution of the previous spinal cord herniation.

This is the first report of spontaneous resolution of a spinal cord herniation in the literature. At present, the treatment of this disorder is individualized, with microsurgical correction used in patients with progressive neurological impairment. The featured case highlights the potential variability in the natural history of this condition and supports considering an initial trial of nonoperative management for patients with mild, nonprogressive neurological deficits.

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Jefferson R. Wilson and Michael G. Fehlings

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Steven Casha and Michael G. Fehlings

Object. Semiconstrained load-sharing implants for spinal fixation accommodate change in the screw—plate interface as bone grafts shrink. The authors evaluated the clinical and radiological outcome in patients after placement of the Codman anterior cervical plate (ACP) system, which allows change in the screw—plate angle.

Methods. The authors undertook a 10-center prospective study with independent blinded evaluation. All patients underwent cervical fusion and placement of ACPs. Clinical and radiological evaluations were performed at 1, 3, 6, 12, and 24 months. Radiographs were examined for screw angles, construct height, fusion, and screw fracture or displacement.

One hundred ninety-five patients were enrolled. The mean follow-up period was 17 months. At 24 months neurological improvement was demonstrated in 68.7% and pain improvement in 76.6% of the patients. Fusion was successful in 93.8%. Varying degrees (most minor) of hardware-related failure occurred in 10.4% of cases; however, reoperation was required in only four (2.1%). A significant change in screw angles occurred over time (mean 6.4° in caudal screw angle [p < 0.001] and 2.4° in the rostral screw angle [p = 0.003]). These changes plateaued by 6 months. A change in construct height (mean 3.48 mm) occurred by 6 months (p < 0.05).

Conclusions. Based on an independent blinded evaluation, the Codman ACP provides effective fixation with load sharing and is effective in achieving fusion with a 94% success rate. Direct comparison with rigidly locked devices is required to establish definitively the optimal method for anterior cervical fixation.

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Shokei Yamada and Austin R. T. Colohan

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Michael G. Fehlings and Jared T. Wilcox

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Michael O. Kelleher, Gamaliel Tan, Roger Sarjeant and Michael G. Fehlings


Despite the growing use of multimodal intraoperative monitoring (IOM) in cervical spinal surgery, limited data exist regarding the sensitivity, specificity, and predictive values of such a technique in detecting new neurological deficits in this setting. The authors sought to define the incidence of significant intraoperative electrophysiological changes and new postoperative neurological deficits in a cohort of patients undergoing cervical surgery.


The authors conducted a prospective analysis of a consecutive series of patients who had undergone cervical surgery during a 5-year period at a university-based neurosurgical unit, in which multimodal IOM was recorded. Sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive values (PPVs), and negative predictive values (NPVs) were determined using standard Bayesian techniques. The study population included 1055 patients (614 male and 441 female) with a mean age of 55 years.


The IOM modalities performed included somatosensory evoked potential (SSEP) recording in 1055 patients, motor evoked potential (MEP) recording in 26, and electromyography (EMG) in 427. Twenty-six patients (2.5%) had significant SSEP changes. Electromyographic activity was transient in 212 patients (49.6%), and 115 patients (26.9%) had sustained burst or train activity. New postoperative neurological deficits occurred in 34 patients (3.2%): 6 had combined sensory and motor deficits, 7 had new sensory deficits, 9 had increased motor weakness, and 12 had new root deficits. Of these 34 patients, 12 had spinal tumors, of which 7 were intramedullary. Overall, of the 34 new postoperative deficits, 21 completely resolved, 9 partially resolved, and 4 had no improvement. The deficits that completely resolved did so on average 3.3 months after surgery. Patients with deficits that did not fully resolve (partial or no improvement) were followed up for an average of 1.8 years after surgery.

Somatosensory evoked potentials had a sensitivity of 52%, a specificity of 100%, a PPV of 100%, and an NPV of 97%. Motor evoked potential sensitivity was 100%, specificity 96%, PPV 96%, and NPV 100%. Electromyography had a sensitivity of 46%, specificity of 73%, PPV of 3%, and an NPV of 97%.


Combined neurophysiological IOM with EMG and SSEP recording and the selective use of MEPs is helpful for predicting and possibly preventing neurological injury during cervical spine surgery.