- STUDY DESIGN: A multicenter Canadian cohort study. OBJECTIVES: The objective of this study is to evaluate the impact of early versus late surgical decompression on motor neurological recovery after traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI). SETTING: Canadian acute care and SCI rehabilitation facilities. METHODS: A prospective cohort study of patients within the Ontario Spinal Cord Injury Registry program was performed. We considered SCI patients with an admission American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) Impairment Scale (AIS) grade of A through D, with magnetic resonance imaging-confirmed spinal cord compression. Grouped analysis was performed comparing the cohort of patients who received early surgery (<24 h after SCI) to those receiving delayed surgery (<24 h after SCI). The primary outcome was the change in ASIA motor score (AMS) occurring between hospital admission and rehabilitation discharge. RESULTS: A total of 35 (41.7%) patients underwent early surgery and 49 (58.3%) underwent late surgery. At admission, there was a greater proportion of patients within the early surgery group with more severe AIS grade A injuries. Of the 55 patients with neurological exam available at rehabilitation discharge, a greater proportion had at least a two-grade AIS improvement in the early-surgery group (P=0.01). The mean improvement in AMS at rehabilitation discharge was 20 points amongst early-surgery patients and 15 points amongst late-surgery patients (P=0.46). In the analysis investigating AMS improvement, adjusted for preoperative status and neurological level, there was a positive effect estimate for early surgical therapy that was statistically significant (P=0.01). CONCLUSION: The results here add weight to the growing body of literature, which supports the principle of early intervention in the setting of spinal trauma and SCI.