There is an ongoing controversy about the optimal timing for surgical decompression after acute traumatic cervical spinal cord injury (SCI). For this reason, we performed a retrospective study of patients who were operated on after traumatic cervical SCI at the Trauma Center Murnau, Germany, and who met inclusion as well as exclusion criteria (n = 70 patients). Follow-up data were collected prospectively according to the European Multicenter Study about Spinal Cord Injury (EMSCI) protocol over a period of 1 year. Early decompression was defined as within the first 8 h after the insult (n = 35 patients). Primary outcome was the difference in the SCIM (Spinal Cord Independence Measure) 1 year after the trauma. After the follow-up period, patients who were decompressed earlier had a significantly higher SCIM difference (45.8 vs. 27.1, p < 0.005). A regression analysis showed that timing of decompression, age, as well as basal AIS (American Spinal Injury Association Impairment Scale) and basal SCIM scores were independent predictors for a better functional outcome (SCIM). Further, patients from the early decompression group had better AIS grades (p < 0.006) and a higher AIS conversion rate (p < 0.029). Additionally, this cohort also had a better total motor performance as well as upper extremity motor function after 1 year (p < 0.025 and p < 0.002). The motor and neurological levels of patients who were operated on within 8 h were significantly more caudal (p < 0.003 and p < 0.014) after 1 year. The present study suggests that early decompression after traumatic cervical SCI might have a positive impact on the functional and neurological outcome of affected individuals.
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