Bone Density Distribution in the Cervical Spine

Global Spine J. 2022 Apr 29;21925682221098965. doi: 10.1177/21925682221098965. Online ahead of print.


Study design: Retrospective cohort study.

Objective: Given changes in bone density induced by degenerative disease, general measures of bone health (ie DEXA) are inadequate to evaluate bone density in surgical areas of interest. Regional differences in HU in the cervical spine may influence surgical strategies. The purposes of our study were to determine whether cervical Hounsfield units (HU) vary by level, examine their relationship with age, comorbidities, and alignment, and propose a technique to measure HU in the lateral masses.

Methods: Two hundred twenty-four patients with degenerative spine pathology with a cervical computed tomography were included (2015-2019). Measurements were performed in each vertebral body (C2-T1; mid-axial, anterior-axial, posterior-axial, mid-coronal, and mid-sagittal) and 2 regions of the lateral masses (C3-C6; mid-cor, mid-sag). To evaluate reliability, 6 observers each measured 355 HU values, inter-relater reliability assessed with intraclass correlation coefficients Correlations of HU with age, BMI, comorbidities, and cervical alignment were evaluated.

Results: Bone density differed by level, with the lowest HU scores in the lower cervical spine (C6-T1) (P < .001). No correlations were found between LM HU and age, BMI, CCI, or alignment (P > .05). Increased kyphosis was weakly correlated with VB HU, while age and CCI showed moderate correlations with VB HU at all levels (P<.001). ICC for HU measurements were good to excellent for the VBs, but poor to moderate for the LMs.

Conclusion: Bone is least dense in the lower cervical spine. HU scoring is not reliable in the lateral masses. We recommend that a level-specific approach to bone density is considered in surgical planning.

Keywords: bone density; cervical; computed tomography; fusion; hounsfield units.