Decreases in bone mineral density at cortical and trabecular sites in the tibia and femur during the first year of spinal cord injury

Sylvie Coupaud, Alan N. McLean, Mariel Purcell, Matthew H. Fraser, David B. Allan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)
141 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Disuse osteoporosis occurs in response to long-term immobilization. Spinal cord injury (SCI) leads to a form of disuse osteoporosis that only affects the paralyzed limbs. High rates of bone resorption after injury are evident from decreases in bone mineral content (BMC), which in the past have been attributed in the main to loss of trabecular bone in the epiphyses and cortical thinning in the shaft through endocortical resorption. Methods: Patients with motor-complete SCI recruited from the Queen Elizabeth National Spinal Injuries Unit (Glasgow, UK) were scanned within 5. weeks of injury (baseline) using peripheral Quantitative Computed Tomography (pQCT). Unilateral scans of the tibia, femur and radius provided separate estimates of trabecular and cortical bone parameters in the epiphyses and diaphyses, respectively. Using repeat pQCT scans at 4, 8 and 12. months post-injury, changes in BMC, bone mineral density (BMD) and cross-sectional area (CSA) of the bone were quantified. Results: Twenty-six subjects (5 female, 21 male) with SCI (12 paraplegic, 14 tetraplegic), ranging from 16 to 76. years old, were enrolled onto the study. Repeated-measures analyses showed a significant effect of time since injury on key bone parameters at the epiphyses of the tibia and femur (BMC, total BMD, trabecular BMD) and their diaphyses (BMC, cortical BMD, cortical CSA). There was no significant effect of gender or age on key outcome measures, but there was a tendency for the female subjects to experience greater decreases in cortical BMD. The decreases in cortical BMD in the tibia and femur were found to be statistically significant in both men and women. Conclusions: By carrying out repeat pQCT scans at four-monthly intervals, this study provides a uniquely detailed description of the cortical bone changes that occur alongside trabecular bone changes in the first year of complete SCI. Significant decreases in BMD were recorded in both the cortical and trabecular bone compartments of the tibia and femur throughout the first year of injury. This study provides evidence for the need for targeted early intervention to preserve bone mass within this patient group.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)69-75
Number of pages7
Early online date14 Jan 2015
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2015


  • bone mineral density
  • cortical
  • trabecular
  • osteoporosis
  • spinal cord injury
  • peripheral quantitative computed tomography


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