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Elizabeth Le, Bizhan Aarabi, David S. Hersh, Kathirkamanthan Shanmuganathan, Cara Diaz, Jennifer Massetti and Noori Akhtar-Danesh


Studies of preclinical spinal cord injury (SCI) in rodents indicate that expansion of intramedullary lesions (IMLs) seen on MR images may be amenable to neuroprotection. In patients with subaxial SCI and motor-complete American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) Impairment Scale (AIS) Grade A or B, IML expansion has been shown to be approximately 900 μm/hour. In this study, the authors investigated IML expansion in a cohort of patients with subaxial SCI and AIS Grade A, B, C, or D.


Seventy-eight patients who had at least 2 MRI scans within 6 days of SCI were enrolled. Data were analyzed by regression analysis.


In this cohort, the mean age was 45.3 years (SD 18.3 years), 73 patients were injured in a motor vehicle crash, from a fall, or in sport activities, and 77% of them were men. The mean Injury Severity Score (ISS) was 26.7 (SD 16.7), and the AIS grade was A in 23 patients, B in 7, C in 7, and D in 41. The mechanism of injury was distraction in 26 patients, compression in 22, disc/osteophyte complex in 29, and Chance fracture in 1. The mean time between injury onset and the first MRI scan (Interval 1) was 10 hours (SD 8.7 hours), and the mean time to the second MRI scan (Interval 2) was 60 hours (SD 29.6 hours). The mean IML lengths of the first and second MR images were 38.8 mm (SD 20.4 mm) and 51 mm (SD 36.5 mm), respectively. The mean time from the first to the second MRI scan (Interval 3) was 49.9 hours (SD 28.4 hours), and the difference in IML lengths was 12.6 mm (SD 20.7 mm), reflecting an expansion rate of 366 μm/ hour (SD 710 μm/hour). IML expansion in patients with AIS Grades A and B was 918 μm/hour (SD 828 μm/hour), and for those with AIS Grades C and D, it was 21 μm/hour (SD 304 μm/hour). Univariate analysis indicated that AIS Grade A or B versus Grades C or D (p < 0.0001), traction (p= 0.0005), injury morphology (p < 0.005), the surgical approach (p= 0.009), vertebral artery injury (p= 0.02), age (p < 0.05), ISS (p < 0.05), ASIA motor score (p < 0.05), and time to decompression (p < 0.05) were all predictors of lesion expansion. In multiple regression analysis, however, the sole determinant of IML expansion was AIS grade (p < 0.005).


After traumatic subaxial cervical spine or spinal cord injury, patients with motor-complete injury (AIS Grade A or B) had a significantly higher rate of IML expansion than those with motor-incomplete injury (AIS Grade C or D).

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Bizhan Aarabi, Stuart Mirvis, Kathirkamanthan Shanmuganathan, Alexander R. Vaccaro, Cassandra J. Holmes, Noori Akhtar-Danesh, Michael G. Fehlings and Marcel F. Dvorak


Facet joints are major stabilizers of cervical motion allowing for effortless and pain-free multidimensional cervical spine movements without significant linear or rotational translation, thus minimizing any chance for spinal cord or nerve root impingement. Unilateral, nondisplaced subaxial facet fractures do not meet the conventional criteria for spinal instability under physiological loads. Limited evidence indicates that even with no or minimal displacement, 20%–80% of these fractures fail nonoperative management. The risk factors for instability in isolated nondisplaced subaxial facet fractures remain uncertain. In this retrospective study of prospectively collected data, the authors attempted to identify the predictors of failure in the management of isolated, nondisplaced subaxial facet fractures admitted to their Level I trauma center over a 10-year period.


Demographic, clinical, imaging, and follow-up data for 25 patients with unilateral nondisplaced subaxial facet fractures who were managed surgically (n = 10) or nonoperatively (n = 15) were statistically analyzed.


The mean age of the patients was 38 years, 19 were male, and 21 of the fractures were the result of either motor vehicle accidents or falls. The mean motor score on the American Spinal Injury Association scale was 99.2, and the mean Subaxial Injury Classification (SLIC) severity score was 3 (operated 3.5, nonoperated 2.3). Allen mechanistic classification included 22 compressive-extension Stage 1 and 2 distractive-extension Stage 1 fractures. Subaxial facet fractures involved C-7 in 17 patients (68%), C-6 in 7 (28%), and C-3 in 1 (4%). The anatomical plane of fracture through the lateral mass was sagittal in 12 patients, axial in 8, and coronal in 3 patients. Nondisplaced floating lateral mass injuries were noted in 2 patients. The mean instability score, considering 7 components of the discoligamentous complex on MRI, was 3.2 (operated 3.6, nonoperated 3.0). Ten (40%) of 25 patients in this investigation did not have successful management, 9 in the nonoperated and 1 in the operated group (p = 0.018). Unsuccessful management was significantly greater in younger patients (p = 0.0008), possibly indicating selection bias (p = 0.07, Wilcoxon ranksum test). Fracture plane, instability, and SLIC scores did not play a significant role in treatment failure in this study.


In this study, surgery was superior to nonoperative management of isolated, nondisplaced, or minimally displaced subaxial cervical spine facet fractures.