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STUDY DESIGN: Retrospective Case Review. OBJECTIVES: To describe the clinical presentation and course of patients with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) features of subacute progressive ascending myelopathy (SPAM). A rare complication of spinal cord injury. SETTING: National Spinal Injuries Centre, Stoke Mandeville Hospital, UK. MATERIALS AND METHODS: A retrospective review of the case notes and MRI studies of 11 cases with typical MRI features of ascending myelopathy presenting to a tertiary Spinal Injuries centre over a 15-year period. RESULTS: Eleven patients were identified with MRI features typical of SPAM, a median of 13 days (mean 24, range 4-86 days) following cord injury. The median number of cord segments involved above the initial insult was 6 (mean 6.2, range 4-11). MRI appearances include extension four or more segments cephalad to the initial cord injured segment, cord expansion and increased intramedullary T2 signal with a rim of cord sparing peripherally. Cord changes and neurological deficits improved over time but did not return to the initial injured level on MRI. One patient died (mortality 9%). CONCLUSION: SPAM is a rare cause of neurological deterioration following spinal cord injury but may remain subclinical. SPAM most commonly presents as neurological deterioration but may present with shoulder pain, respiratory deterioration or remain subclinical. There are characteristic MRI appearances. It can be fatal.

Original publication




Journal article


Spinal Cord

Publication Date





140 - 144


Adolescent, Adult, Female, Humans, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male, Middle Aged, Retrospective Studies, Spinal Cord Diseases, Spinal Cord Injuries