What is central cord syndrome?

Central cord syndrome is a 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. 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 but may also 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.

This answer is based on source information from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Luke Macyszyn, MD
Central cord syndrome is commonly caused by a hyperextension injury in an older adult. Adults will have degenerative disease in their cervical spine, which compromises the amount of space that the spinal cord has. If this space is very limited and the neck is hyperextended, this leads to kinking of the cervical spinal cord. This usually results in weakness of the arms, but may also lead to weakness in the legs as well.

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