Imaging and Electrophysiology for Degenerative Cervical Myelopathy [AO Spine RECODE-DCM Research Priority Number 9]

Global Spine J. 2022 Feb;12(1_suppl):130S-146S. doi: 10.1177/21925682211057484. Epub 2021 Nov 19.


Study design: Narrative review.

Objective: The current review aimed to describe the role of existing techniques and emerging methods of imaging and electrophysiology for the management of degenerative cervical myelopathy (DCM), a common and often progressive condition that causes spinal cord dysfunction and significant morbidity globally.

Methods: A narrative review was conducted to summarize the existing literature and highlight future directions.

Results: Anatomical magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is well established in the literature as the key imaging tool to identify spinal cord compression, disc herniation/bulging, and inbuckling of the ligamentum flavum, thus facilitating surgical planning, while radiographs and computed tomography (CT) provide complimentary information. Electrophysiology techniques are primarily used to rule out competing diagnoses. However, signal change and measures of cord compression on conventional MRI have limited utility to characterize the degree of tissue injury, which may be helpful for diagnosis, prognostication, and repeated assessments to identify deterioration. Early translational studies of quantitative imaging and electrophysiology techniques show potential of these methods to more accurately reflect changes in spinal cord microstructure and function.

Conclusion: Currently, clinical management of DCM relies heavily on anatomical MRI, with additional contributions from radiographs, CT, and electrophysiology. Novel quantitative assessments of microstructure, perfusion, and function have the potential to transform clinical practice, but require robust validation, automation, and standardization prior to uptake.

Keywords: assessment; cervical myelopathy; diagnosis; electrophysiology; imaging; magnetic resonance; microstructure; neural damage; spinal cord compression.