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NINDS Central Cord Syndrome Information Page

Synonym(s):   Central Cervical Cord Syndrome

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What is Central Cord Syndrome?

Central cord syndrome is the most common form of incomplete spinal cord injury characterized by impairment in the arms and hands and to a lesser extent in the legs. The brain's ability to send and receive signals to and from parts of the body below the site of injury is reduced but not entirely blocked. This syndrome is associated with damage to the large nerve fibers that carry information directly from the cerebral cortex to the spinal cord.  These nerves are particularly important for hand and arm function. Symptoms may include paralysis or loss of fine control of movements in the arms and hands, with relatively less impairment of leg movements. Sensory loss below the site of the injury and loss of bladder control may also occur, as well as painful sensations such as tinging, burning, or dull ache.  The overall amount and type of functional loss is dependent upon the severity of nerve damage.  Central cord syndrome is usually the result of trauma that causes damage to the vertebrae in the neck or herniation of the vertebral discs.  It also may develop in persons over the age of 50 due to gradual weakening of the vertebrae and discs, which narrows the spinal column and may contribute to compression of the spinal cord when the neck is hyper-extended. 

Is there any treatment?

There is no cure for central cord syndrome although some people recover near-normal function. There is no standard course of treatment, although drug therapy, surgery, and rest are often part of the program.  Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is used to indicate the degree of spinal cord compression and vertebral instability.  Vertebral instability due to acute traumatic injury or cervical disc herniation is often treated by surgery to prevent further damage to the spinal cord.  Recent reports indicate that earlier surgery may improve chances for recovery.  Numerous recent studies suggest that surgery also can be beneficial in individuals with persistent compression of the spinal cord and ongoing neurological deterioration.

What is the prognosis?

The prognosis for central cord syndrome varies, but most people whose syndrome is caused by trauma have some recovery of neurological function. Evaluation of abnormal signals on MRI images can help predict he likelihood that neurological recovery may occur naturally.  Those who receive medical intervention soon after their injury often have good outcomes.  Many people with the disorder recover substantial function after their initial injury, and the ability to walk is recovered in most cases, although some impairment may remain.  Improvement occurs first in the legs, then the bladder, and may be seen in the arms.  Hand function recovers last, if at all.  Recovery is generally better in younger patients, compared to those over the age of 50.

What research is being done?

Our understanding of central cord syndrome has increased greatly in recent decades as a result of research funded conducted by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).  Much of this research focuses on finding better ways to prevent, treat, and ultimately cure neurological disorders such as central cord syndrome. 

More info

NIH Patient Recruitment for Central Cord Syndrome Clinical Trials

Organizations

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Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation
636 Morris Turnpike
Suite 3A
Short Hills, NJ   07078
informations@christopherreeve.org
http://www.christopherreeve.org
Tel: 973-379-2690 800-225-0292
Fax: 973-912-9433

Miami Project to Cure Paralysis/ Buoniconti Fund
P.O. Box 016960
R-48
Miami, FL   33101-6960
miamiproject@med.miami.edu
http://www.themiamiproject.org
Tel: 305-243-6001 800-STANDUP (782-6387)
Fax: 305-243-6017

National Spinal Cord Injury Association
75-20 Astoria Blvd
Suite 120
East Elmhurst, NY   11370-1177
info@spinalcord.org
http://www.spinalcord.org
Tel: 800-962-9629
Fax: 866-387-2196

Spinal Cord Society
19051 County Highway 1
Fergus Falls, MN   56537
scs-nc@nc.rr.com
http://scsus.org/
Tel: 218-739-5252 or 218-739-5261
Fax: 218-739-5262

Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA)
801 18th Street, NW
Washington, DC   20006-3517
info@pva.org
http://www.pva.org
Tel: 202-USA-1300 (872-1300) 800-555-9140
Fax: 202-785-4452

 
Related NINDS Publications and Information


Prepared by:
Office of Communications and Public Liaison
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, MD 20892



NINDS health-related material is provided for information purposes only and does not necessarily represent endorsement by or an official position of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke or any other Federal agency. Advice on the treatment or care of an individual patient should be obtained through consultation with a physician who has examined that patient or is familiar with that patient's medical history.

All NINDS-prepared information is in the public domain and may be freely copied. Credit to the NINDS or the NIH is appreciated.

Last updated October 24, 2014