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. 


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.


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.


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. 


Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation
The Reeve Foundation is dedicated to curing spinal cord injury by funding innovative research, and improving the quality of life for people living with paralysis through grants, information and advocacy.

636 Morris Turnpike
Suite 3A
Short Hills, NJ 07078
Tel: Short Hills
Fax: 973-912-9433

Miami Project to Cure Paralysis
Supports and conducts research and related programs in the area of spinal cord injury.

P.O. Box 016960
Miami, FL 33101-6960
Tel: Miami
Fax: 305-243-6017

National Spinal Cord Injury Association
The National Spinal Cord Injury Association is dedicated to improving the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of Americans living with the results of spinal cord injury and disease (SCI/D) and their families. NSCIA, educates and empowers survivors of SCI/D to achieve and maintain the highest levels of independence, health and personal fulfillment.

120-34 Queens Boulevard, #1320
Kew Gardens, NY 11415
Tel: Kew Gardens
Fax: 866-387-2196

Spinal Cord Society
International advocacy organization that supports research, publishes a newsletter, and sponsors an international network of chapters.

19051 County Highway 1
Fergus Falls, MN 56537
Tel: Fergus Falls
Fax: 218-739-5262

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NINDS Disorders is an index of neurological conditions provided by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. This valuable tool offers detailed descriptions, facts on treatment and prognosis, and patient organization contact information for over 500 identified neurological disorders.

Neurological Disorders and Stroke »