The Open Public Health Journal

ISSN: 1874-9445 ― Volume 13, 2020

The Use of Multiple Imputation Techniques on Short-Term Clinical Complications of Patients Presenting with Traumatic Spinal Cord Injuries

Mwiche Musukuma1, Brian Sonkwe2, Isaac Fwemba1, 3, Patrick Musonda1, 4, *
1 Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of Zambia, Nationalist Road, Lusaka, Zambia
2 Department of Surgery, University Teaching Hospital, Nationalist Road, Lusaka, Zambia
3 Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of Ghana, Legon Boundary, Accra, Ghana
4 University of Bergen, Centre for International Health, Post box 7804, N-5020 Bergen, Norway



With the increase in the use of secondary data in epidemiological studies, the inquiry of how to manage missing data has become more relevant. Our study applied imputation techniques on traumatic spinal cord injuries data; a medical problem where data is generally sporadic. Traumatic spinal cord injuries due to blunt force cause widespread physiological impairments, medical and non-medical problems. The effects of spinal cord injuries are a burden not only to the victims but to their families and to the entire health system of a country. This study also evaluated the causes of traumatic spinal cord injuries in patients admitted to the University Teaching Hospital and factors associated with clinical complications in these patients.


The study used data from medical records of patients who were admitted to the University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka, Zambia. Patients presenting with traumatic spinal cord injuries between 1st January 2013 and 31st December 2017 were part of the study. The data was first analysed using complete case analysis, then multiple imputation techniques were applied, to account for the missing data. Thereafter, both descriptive and inferential analyses were performed on the imputed data.


During the study period of interest, a total of 176 patients were identified as having suffered from spinal cord injuries. Road traffic accidents accounted for 56% (101) of the injuries. Clinical complications suffered by these patients included paralysis, death, bowel and bladder dysfunction and pressure sores among other things. Eighty-eight (50%) patients had paralysis. Patients with cervical spine injuries compared to patients with thoracic spine injuries had 87% reduced odds of suffering from clinical complications (OR=0.13, 95% CI{0.08, 0.22}p<.0001). Being paraplegic at discharge increased the odds of developing a clinical complication by 8.1 times (OR=8.01, 95% CI{2.74, 23.99}, p<.001). Under-going an operation increased the odds of having a clinical complication (OR=3.71, 95% CI{=1.99, 6.88}, p<.0001). A patient who presented with Frankel Grade C or E had a 96% reduction in the odds of having a clinical complication (OR=.04, 95% CI{0.02, 0.09} and {0.02, 0.12} respectively, p<.0001) compared to a patient who presented with Frankel Grade A.


A comparison of estimates obtained from complete case analysis and from multiple imputations revealed that when there are a lot of missing values, estimates obtained from complete case analysis are unreliable and lack power. Efforts should be made to use ideas to deal with missing values such as multiple imputation techniques.

The most common cause of traumatic spinal cord injuries was road traffic accidents. Findings suggest that paralysis had the greatest negative effect on clinical complications. When the category of Frankel Grade increased from A-E, the less likely a patient was likely to succumb to clinical complications. No evidence of an association was found between age, sex and developing a clinical complication.

Keywords: Missing data, Multiple imputation, Traumatic spinal cord injuries, Clinical complications, Complete case analysis.

Article Information

Identifiers and Pagination:

Year: 2019
Volume: 12
First Page: 45
Last Page: 55
Publisher Id: TOPHJ-12-45
DOI: 10.2174/1874944501912010045

Article History:

Received Date: 25/10/2018
Revision Received Date: 21/01/2019
Acceptance Date: 10/02/2019
Electronic publication date: 28/02/2019
Collection year: 2019

© 2019 Musukuma et al.

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: ( This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the University of Bergen, Centre for International Health, Post box 7804, N-5020 Bergen, Norway;

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