Cervical Spondylotic Myelopathy: A Guide to Diagnosis and Management

J Am Board Fam Med. 2020 Mar-Apr;33(2):303-313. doi: 10.3122/jabfm.2020.02.190195.


Cervical spondylotic myelopathy (CSM) is a neurologic condition that develops insidiously over time as degenerative changes of the spine result in compression of the cord and nearby structures. It is the most common form of spinal cord injury in adults; yet, its diagnosis is often delayed. The purpose of this article is to review the pathophysiology, natural history, diagnosis, and management of CSM with a focus on the recommended timeline for physicians suspecting CSM to refer patients to a spine surgeon. Various processes underlie spondylotic changes of the canal and are separated into static and dynamic factors. Not all patients with evidence of cord compression will present with symptoms, and the progression of disease varies by patient. The hallmark symptoms of CSM include decreased hand dexterity and gait instability as well as sensory and motor dysfunction. magnetic resonance imaging is the imaging modality of choice in patients with suspected CSM, but computed tomography myelography may be used in patients with contraindications. Patients with mild CSM may be treated surgically or nonoperatively, whereas those with moderate-severe disease are treated operatively. Due to the long-term disability that may result from a delay in diagnosis and management, prompt referral to a spine surgeon is recommended for any patient suspected of having CSM. This review provides information and guidelines for practitioners to develop an actionable awareness of CSM.

Keywords: Gait; Spinal Cord Compression; Spinal Cord Diseases; Spinal Osteophytosis; Spondylosis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cervical Vertebrae / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Spinal Cord Compression* / diagnostic imaging
  • Spinal Cord Compression* / etiology
  • Spinal Cord Diseases* / diagnostic imaging
  • Spinal Cord Diseases* / therapy
  • Spondylosis* / diagnostic imaging
  • Spondylosis* / therapy