Electrophysiological measures can provide information that complements clinical assessments such as the American Spinal Injury Association sensory and motor scores in the evaluation of outcomes after spinal cord injury (SCI). The authors review and summarize the literature regarding tests that are most relevant to the study of SCI recovery—in particular, motor evoked potentials and somatosensory evoked potentials (SSEPs). In addition, they discuss the role of other tests, including F-wave nerve conductance tests and electromyography, sympathetic skin response, and the Hoffman reflex (H-reflex) test as well as the promise of dermatomal SSEPs and the electrical perceptual threshold test, newer quantitative tests of sensory function.
It has been shown that motor evoked potential amplitudes improve with SCI recovery but latencies do not. Somatosensory evoked potentials are predictive of ambulatory capacity and hand function. Hoffman reflexes are present during spinal shock despite the loss of tendon reflexes, but their amplitudes increase with time after injury. Further, H-reflex modulation is reflective of changes in spinal excitability. While these tests have produced data that is congruent with clinical evaluations, they have yet to surpass clinical evaluations in predicting outcomes. Continuing research using these methodologies should yield a better understanding of the mechanisms behind SCI recovery and thus provide potentially greater predictive and evaluative power.