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Central cord syndrome

Central cord syndrome (also known as central cervical cord syndrome) is the most common form of an “incomplete spinal cord injury”—one in which the spinal cord's ability to transmit some messages to or from the brain is damaged or reduced below the site of injury to the spinal cord.

It is associated with damage to the large nerve fibers that carry information directly from the brain's cerebral cortex (involved with muscle movement in the body) to the spinal cord. These nerves are particularly important for hand and arm function. The overall amount and type of functional loss is dependent upon the severity of nerve damage. Symptoms may include:

  • Paralysis or loss of fine control of movements in the arms and hands, with relatively less impairment of leg movements
  • Loss of or change in sensation below the site of the injury
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Painful sensations such as tinging, burning, or dull ache

Central cord syndrome is usually the result of trauma that causes damage to the vertebrae in the neck or herniation of the vertebral discs that surround the spinal cord. It also may develop in people over age 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 and the prognosis varies among individuals. Most people have some recovery of neurological function, and some people recover near-normal function. There is no standard course of treatment, but drug therapy, surgery to repair discs, and rest are often part of the program

How can I or my loved one help improve care for people with central cord syndrome?

Consider participating in a clinical trial so clinicians and scientists can learn more about central cord syndrome and related disorders. Clinical research uses human volunteers to help researchers learn more about a disorder and perhaps find better ways to safely detect, treat, or prevent disease.

All types of volunteers are needed—those who are healthy or may have an illness or disease—of all different ages, sexes, races, and ethnicities to ensure that study results apply to as many people as possible, and that treatments will be safe and effective for everyone who will use them.

For information about participating in clinical research visit NIH Clinical Research Trials and You. Learn about clinical trials currently looking for people with central cord syndrome at, a database of current and past clinical studies and research results.

Where can I find more information about central cord syndrome?

The following organizations offer information and other resources:

Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation
Phone: 973-379-2690 or 800-225-0292

National Rehabilitation Information Center (NARIC)
Phone: 301-459-5900; 800-346-2742; 301-459-5984

Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA)
Phone: 800-424-8200


United Spinal Association
Phone: 718-803-3782 or 800-962-9629

Content source: Accessed June 22, 2023.

The information in this document is for general educational purposes only. It is not intended to substitute for personalized professional advice. Although the information was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, MedLink, its representatives, and the providers of the information do not guarantee its accuracy and disclaim responsibility for adverse consequences resulting from its use. For further information, consult a physician and the organization referred to herein.

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