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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