The neuropathological foundations for the restorative neurology of spinal cord injury

Byron Kakulas, C. Kaelan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Citations (Scopus)


© 2015 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved. An appreciation of the neuropathology of human spinal cord injury (SCI) is a basic requirement for all concerned with the medical treatment of patients with SCI as well as for the many neuroscientists devoted to finding a cure. An understanding of the neuropathology of SCI is a necessary guide to those concerned at all levels of treatment, whether they are doctors or other health professionals. The underlying changes in the spinal cord are especially relevant to the restorative neurology (RN) of SCI. The new discipline of RN seeks to enhance the function of residual spinal cord elements which have survived the injury and so improve the patient's rehabilitative status. This is in contrast to the conventional approach in rehabilitation which works around the clinical neurological deficiencies. Following the injury a series of changes take place in the spinal cord and surrounding tissues which continue to evolve throughout the life of the patient. In flexion and extension injuries resulting from motor vehicle trauma, diving and sporting accidents the spinal cord is compressed and disrupted but usually with some continuity remaining in the white matter columns. The brunt of the injury is usually centrally placed where there is bleeding into the disrupted grey matter involving one two segments, usually cervical. The loss of central grey matter is nowhere near as important as is the tearing apart of the white matter tracts in determining the patient's clinical state. The central grey matter supplies one two overlapping segmental myotomes and sensory fields. In contrast loss of continuity in the long white matter tracts is catastrophic because all functions below the level of injury are affected, autonomic or voluntary either by paralysis or anaesthesia, usually both. It is important to determine the exact nature of the injury in every patient as a preliminary to treatment by RN. This assessment is both clinical and neurophysiological with special attention given to any part of the long white matter tracts which may have escaped the initial injury. It is these residual nerve fibres which provide the opportunity to improve the patient's neurological state by being re-activated, modulated and enhanced by stimulation or by other RN methods. The conversion of a clinically complete SCI patient to being incomplete and ambulant is a tremendous improvement in the patient's status. It is the purpose of this article to provide the reader with the essential neuropathology of SCI as a beginning point in planning treatment whether it is medical or ancillary, as well as to inform the neuroscientist about the condition being addressed in his or her research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S1-S7
JournalClinical Neurology and Neurosurgery
Issue numberS1
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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