The impact of surgical timing in neurological recovery in thoracic and thoracolumbar traumatic spinal cord injury (tSCI) is still a subject of discussion. While in cervical tSCI one may expect a beneficial effect of early intervention within 24 h, especially in complete cases, this has not yet been demonstrated clearly for thoracic tSCI. This study addresses neurological improvement after early and late surgery for thoracic and thoracolumbar tSCI. A systematic search retrieved 14 publications of observational studies reporting outcome measurements after surgery in 1075 patients with thoracic and thoracolumbar tSCI from PubMed and Embase databases. Surgery was considered early within 24 h and late thereafter. An improvement of at least one and two grades on the American Spinal Injury Association Impairment Scale (ASIA) was evaluated. The Meta-Analyses and Systematic Reviews of Observational Studies guidelines were followed. Improvement rates were summarized using individual patient data in a Bayesian random effects model and compared for those with early and late surgery. In the qualitative analysis, six of seven studies, which investigated the effect of surgical timing, observed a significant effect of early surgery on at least one ASIA grade improvement. Quantitative analysis in 948 patients with thoracic and thoracolumbar tSCI data, however, did not reveal a significant increase in odds of ≥1 ASIA grade recovery in early surgery (66.8% [95% confidence interval (CI): 45.0-87.8%] compared with late surgery (48.9% [95% CI: 25.1-70.7%; odds ratio (OR) 2.2 (95% CI: 0.6-14.0]). This study did not observe a significant beneficial effect of surgical decompression within 24 h in patients with thoracic and thoracolumbar tSCI.