Translating research findings from animal models of spinal cord injury (SCI) to humans is a challenging enterprise. It is likely that differences in the use of common terms contribute to this.


The purpose of this study was to identify how scientists and clinicians define terms used across the research and clinical care continuum.


We utilized the Delphi technique to develop consensus on the opinions of experts (defined as researchers and/or clinicians working in the field of SCI) through a series of structured, iterative surveys. A focus group of stakeholders developed the terms on the initial survey. Results were used to create definitions and formulate questions for a second and third survey.


Survey 1 yielded one definition for eight terms and multiple definitions for six terms in addition to three new terms that respondents believed should be defined. In Survey 2, definitions for eight terms reached at least 80% agreement: anatomically complete spinal cord injury, functionally complete spinal cord injury, neuromodulation, physical exercise, physical rehabilitation, plasticity, task specificity, and training intensity. Consensus was not reached for six terms. In Survey 3, definitions for seven additional terms reached at least 80% agreement: recovery, repair, compensation, regeneration, physical function, physiological function, and chronic. There were three terms that did not reach agreement after the three rounds: acute, translational research, and sprouting.


We found that different terminology contributes to the gap between preclinical and clinical research and clinical application. This suggests that increased communication among different disciplines could be a way to advance the field.

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