New Imaging Modalities for Degenerative Cervical Myelopathy

Clin Spine Surg. 2022 Dec 1;35(10):422-430. doi: 10.1097/BSD.0000000000001408. Epub 2022 Nov 1.


Introduction: Degenerative cervical myelopathy (DCM) is defined as dysfunction of the spinal cord as a result of compression from degenerative changes to surrounding joints, intervertebral disks, or ligaments. Symptoms can include upper extremity numbness and diminished dexterity, difficulty with fine manipulation of objects, gait imbalance, and incoordination, and compromised bowel and bladder function. Accurate diagnosis and evaluation of the degree of impairment due to degenerative cervical myelopathy remain a challenging clinical endeavor requiring a thorough and accurate history, physical examination, and assessment of imaging findings.

Methods: A narrative review is presented summarizing the current landscape of imaging modalities utilized in DCM diagnostics and the future direction of research for spinal cord imaging.

Results and discussion: Current imaging modalities, particularly magnetic resonance imaging and, to a lesser extent, radiographs/CT, offer important information to aid in decision making but are not ideal as stand-alone tools. Newer imaging modalities currently being studied in the literature include diffusion tensor imaging, MR spectroscopy, functional magnetic resonance imaging, perfusion imaging, and positron emission tomography. These newer imaging modalities attempt to more accurately evaluate the physical structure, intrinsic connectivity, biochemical and metabolic function, and perfusion of the spinal cord in DCM. Although there are still substantial limitations to implementation, future clinical practice will likely be revolutionized by these new imaging modalities to diagnose, localize, surgically plan and manage, and follow patients with DCM.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging*
  • Humans
  • Ligaments
  • Neck
  • Spinal Cord Diseases* / diagnostic imaging
  • Spinal Cord Diseases* / surgery