The role of therapeutic hypothermia in the management of acute spinal cord injury

Nikolay L. Martirosyan, Arpan A. Patel, Alessandro Carotenuto, M. Yashar S Kalani, Michael A. Bohl, Mark C. Preul, Nicholas Theodore

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


This review paper investigates the history, efficacy, and administration of systemic and local hypothermia for spinal cord injury (SCI). It summarizes the published experimental and clinical evidence on hypothermia for SCI and analyzes the potential for further research. Early experimental animal research showed that local hypothermia improved recovery and gain of function after acute SCI. However, in the early 1970s, clinical research findings did not coincide with results of these animal trials, which led to a loss of interest in local hypothermia. Since the 1980s, systemic hypothermia has been successfully used to treat SCI in both animals and humans. An abundance of positive evidence suggests that clinical trials are needed to determine the effectiveness of hypothermia for SCI. As a first step, we investigated the published clinical and experimental evidence on the use of hypothermia for SCI patients, who have few available treatment options. We searched PubMed for English-language reports published from 1940 to 2016 containing terms related to SCI treatment using hypothermia. We reviewed all articles on local hypothermia and acute SCI or on systemic hypothermia and acute SCI. Bibliographies of retrieved publications were also screened for additional citations. Ninety-six papers were selected. The clinical use of hypothermia is most successful if applied according to certain optimized parameters (e.g., duration, temperature, time from injury to initiation of cooling, and rewarming time). Preliminary data suggest that modest systemic hypothermia applied for 48 h provides the best therapeutic value, but the parameters for use of local hypothermia vary greatly. Experimental evidence and some clinical evidence suggest that both local hypothermia and systemic hypothermia are beneficial for acute SCI. Future research should focus on defining the optimal levels of parameters. Large, multicenter, controlled clinical trials are needed to investigate its therapeutic potential.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)79-88
Number of pages10
JournalClinical Neurology and Neurosurgery
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Acute spinal cord injury
  • Circulatory arrest
  • Endovascular cooling
  • Hypothermia
  • Hypothermia, local
  • Ischemia
  • Systemic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology


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