Central Cord Syndrome


Central cord syndrome (CCS) is a type of incomplete spinal cord injury. CCS is marked by damage to the nerve fibers that bring messages from the brain to the body. This condition affects how you can use your arms and hands, and in some cases, your legs. There may be a loss of sensation and motor control.

Spinal Cord
Spinal Cord
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CCS is caused by damage to the central part of the spinal cord. This damage may occur when the neck is hyperextended. This can be associated with:

  • Syringomyelia (syrinx)—a cyst in the spinal cord
  • Loss of blood supply to the area
  • Bleeding in the spinal cord
  • Swelling

Common causes of injury include:

  • Trauma (such as car accident, sports injuries, falls)
  • Degenerative condition of spine (often found in older people)
  • Pre-existing condition, such as being born with a narrow spine

CSS can also be due to:

  • Structural problems
  • Tumors within the spinal cord

Risk Factors

Males over 50 are more likely to have this condition. Risk factors that increase your chances of developing CCS include:

  • Autoimmune disorder (such as multiple sclerosis, neuromyelitis optica)
  • Pre-existing condition (such as narrow spinal canal, spinal cord disease, tethered cord)
  • Participation in certain sports (such as wrestling, diving)


If you have any of these symptoms, do not assume it is due to CCS. These symptoms may be caused by other conditions.

  • Unable to lift arms and hands completely, or numbness and tingling
  • Difficulty with fine motor control (such as buttoning a shirt)
  • Muscle weakness in legs, difficulty walking
  • Loss of bladder control

If CCS is due to trauma, symptoms usually come quickly. Sometimes, however, symptoms may come more slowly.


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. A neurologic exam may also be done.

Your doctor may want pictures of your spinal cord. These can be taken with:


Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Rehab can take a long time for some patients. If you are young and have more muscle function, you have a better chance of recovering.

Treatment options include the following:

Nonsurgical Treatment

In most cases, surgery is not needed. Often treatment involves:

  • Restricting neck movement
  • Giving steroids
  • Doing physical and occupational therapy


Surgery is needed if there is a large compression of the spinal cord fibers. Surgery may also be done after a period of recovery. For example, if you still have cord compression after a recovery period.


To help reduce your chance of getting a spinal cord injury, take the following steps:

  • Avoid diving if you do not know how deep the water is.
  • Always wear a seatbelt.
  • Do not drink and drive. Do not ride with someone who has been drinking.
  • Remove obstacles in your house, like throw rugs, that could cause falls.
  • Use safe methods and proper equipment when playing sports.
  • Secure firearms.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: Rimas Lukas, MD
  • Review Date: 12/2013 -
  • Update Date: 01/13/2014 -
  • Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation


  • National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke


  • National Spinal Cord Injury Association


  • Canadian & American Spinal Research Organization


  • Spinal Cord Research Centre


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