This paper presents results of a prospective study for patients undergoing surgery for posttraumatic syringomyelia between 1991 and 2010.
A group of 137 patients with posttraumatic syringomyelia were evaluated (mean age 45 ± 13 years, mean follow-up 51 ± 51 months) with pre- and postoperative MRI and clinical examinations presenting in this period and followed prospectively by outpatient visits and questionnaires. Surgery was recommended for symptomatic patients with a progressive course. Short-term results were determined within 3 months of surgery, whereas long-term outcomes in terms of clinical recurrences were studied with Kaplan-Meier statistics.
Three groups were distinguished according to the type of trauma: Group A, patients with spinal trauma but without cord injury (ASIA E, n = 37); Group B, patients with an incomplete cord injury (ASIA C or D, n = 55); and Group C, patients with complete loss of motor function or a complete cord injury (ASIA A or B, n = 45). Overall, 61 patients with progressive symptoms underwent 71 operations. Of these operations, 61 consisted of arachnolysis, untethering, and duraplasty at the trauma level (that is, decompression), while 4 ASIA A patients underwent a cordectomy. The remaining procedures consisted of placement of a thecoperitoneal shunt, 2 opiate pump placements, and 2 anterior and 1 posterior cervical decompression and fusion. Seventy-six patients were not treated surgically due to lack of neurological progression or refusal of an operation. Neurological symptoms remained stable for 10 years in 84% of the patients for whom surgery was not recommended due to lack of neurological progression. In contrast, 60% of those who declined recommended surgery had neurological progression within 5 years. For patients presenting with neurological progression, outcome was better with decompression. Postoperatively, 61% demonstrated a reduction of syrinx size. Although neurological symptoms generally remained unchanged after surgery, 47% of affected patients reported a postoperative improvement of their pain syndrome. After 3 months, 51% considered their postoperative status improved and 41% considered it unchanged. In the long-term, favorable results were obtained for Groups A and C with rates for neurological deterioration of 6% and 14% after 5 years, respectively. In Group B, this rate was considerably higher at 39%, because arachnolysis and untethering to preserve residual cord function could not be fully achieved in all patients. Cordectomy led to neurological improvement and syrinx collapse in all 4 patients.
The technique of decompression with arachnolysis, untethering, and duraplasty at the level of the underlying trauma provides good long-term results for patients with progressive neurological symptoms following ASIA A, B and E injuries. Treatment of patients with posttraumatic syringomyelia after spinal cord injuries with preserved motor functions (ASIA C and D) remains a major challenge. Future studies will have to establish whether thecoperitoneal shunts would be a superior alternative for this subgroup.
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