Characterizing Natural Recovery after Traumatic Spinal Cord Injury

Steven Kirshblum, Brittany Snider, Fatma Eren, James Guest

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The predominant tool used to predict outcomes after traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI) is the International Standards for Neurological Classification of Spinal Cord Injury (ISNCSCI), in association with the American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) Impairment Scale (AIS). These measures have evolved based on analyses of large amounts of longitudinal neurological recovery data published in numerous separate studies. This article reviews and synthesizes published data on neurological recovery from multiple sources, only utilizing data in which the sacral sparing definition was applied for determination of completeness. Conversion from a complete to incomplete injury is more common in tetraplegia than paraplegia. The majority of AIS conversion and motor recovery occurs within the first 6-9 months, with the most rapid rate of motor recovery occurring in the first three months after injury. Motor score changes, as well as recovery of motor levels, are described with the initial strength of muscles as well as the levels of the motor zone of partial preservation influencing the prognosis. Total motor recovery is greater for patients with initial AIS B than AIS A, and greater after initial AIS C than with motor complete injuries. Older age has a negative impact on neurological and functional recovery after SCI; however, the specific age (whether >50 or >65 years) and underlying reasons for this impact are unclear. Penetrating injury is more likely to lead to a classification of a neurological complete injury compared with blunt trauma and reduces the likelihood of AIS conversion at one year. There are insufficient data to support gender having a major effect on neurological recovery after SCI.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1267-1284
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of neurotrauma
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 1 2021


  • neurological outcome
  • predicting outcome
  • prognosis
  • spinal cord injury
  • spontaneous recovery

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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