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Spinal Cord Syndromes

Spinal Cord Syndromes is a topic covered in the 5-Minute Emergency Consult.

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  • Anterior cord syndrome:
    • Results from flexion or axial loading mechanism or direct cord compression from vertebral fractures, dislocations, disc herniation, tumor, or abscess
    • Rarely, can be caused by laceration or thrombosis to the anterior spinal artery
  • Brown-Séquard syndrome:
    • Hemisection of the spinal cord, classically as a result of a penetrating wound
    • Rarely unilateral cord compression
  • Central cord syndrome:
    • Most commonly occurs in elderly patients who have pre-existing cervical spondylosis and stenosis
    • Forced hyperextension causes buckling of the ligamentum flavum, creating a shearing injury to the central portion of the spinal cord.
  • Dorsal cord syndrome:
    • Associated with hyperextension injuries
  • Complete cord syndrome:
    • Blunt or penetrating trauma that results in complete disruption of spinal cord
    • Symptoms that remain >24 hr generally are permanent.


  • Spinal cord syndromes result from localized disruption of neurotransmission and exhibit mixed motor and sensory deficits. The most common mechanism is trauma.
  • Patients with arthritis, osteoporosis, metastatic disease, or other chronic spinal disorders are at risk of developing spinal injuries as the result of minor trauma.

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Rosen, Peter, et al., editors. "Spinal Cord Syndromes." 5-Minute Emergency Consult, 5th ed., Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2016. Emergency Central, emergency.unboundmedicine.com/emergency/view/5-Minute_Emergency_Consult/307030/all/Spinal_Cord_Syndromes.
Spinal Cord Syndromes. In: Rosen P, Shayne P, Barkin AZ, et al, eds. 5-Minute Emergency Consult. 5th ed. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2016. https://emergency.unboundmedicine.com/emergency/view/5-Minute_Emergency_Consult/307030/all/Spinal_Cord_Syndromes. Accessed April 23, 2019.
Spinal Cord Syndromes. (2016). In Rosen, P., Shayne, P., Barkin, A. Z., Wolfe, R. E., Hayden, S. R., Barkin, R. M., & Schaider, J. J. (Eds.), 5-Minute Emergency Consult. Available from https://emergency.unboundmedicine.com/emergency/view/5-Minute_Emergency_Consult/307030/all/Spinal_Cord_Syndromes
Spinal Cord Syndromes [Internet]. In: Rosen P, Shayne P, Barkin AZ, Wolfe RE, Hayden SR, Barkin RM, Schaider JJ, editors. 5-Minute Emergency Consult. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2016. [cited 2019 April 23]. Available from: https://emergency.unboundmedicine.com/emergency/view/5-Minute_Emergency_Consult/307030/all/Spinal_Cord_Syndromes.
* Article titles in AMA citation format should be in sentence-case
TY - ELEC T1 - Spinal Cord Syndromes ID - 307030 ED - Rosen,Peter, ED - Shayne,Philip, ED - Barkin,Adam Z, ED - Wolfe,Richard E, ED - Hayden,Stephen R, ED - Barkin,Roger M, ED - Schaider,Jeffrey J, BT - 5-Minute Emergency Consult UR - https://emergency.unboundmedicine.com/emergency/view/5-Minute_Emergency_Consult/307030/all/Spinal_Cord_Syndromes PB - Lippincott Williams & Wilkins ET - 5 DB - Emergency Central DP - Unbound Medicine ER -