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Cervical Spondylosis Workup

  • Author: Hassan Ahmad Hassan Al-Shatoury, MD, PhD, MHPE; Chief Editor: Dean H Hommer, MD  more...
 
Updated: May 23, 2016
 

Laboratory Studies

See the list below:

  • Usually, no specific findings are present.
  • Other findings may include those related to an underlying etiologic or pathogenetic disorder that initiates the spondylotic changes.
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Imaging Studies

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  • Plain cervical radiography is routine in every patient with suspected cervical spondylosis.
    • This examination is valuable in evaluating the uncovertebral and facet joints, the foramen, intervertebral disk spaces, and osteophyte formation.
    • In select circumstances, flexion-extension views may be needed to detect instability.
  • Myelography, with computed tomography (CT) scanning, was previously considered to be the imaging test of choice for assessing spinal and foraminal stenosis. However, with advances in MRI and CT scanning technology, myelography is now performed in selected patients.[8]
    • Because myelography method is invasive, most physicians depend on MRI in diagnosing cervical spondylosis.[8]
    • Myelography adds anatomic information in evaluating spondylosis.
    • Myelography may be especially useful in visualizing the nerve root takeoff.
    • CT scanning, with or without intrathecal dye, can be used to estimate the diameter of the canal.
    • CT scans may demonstrate small, lateral osteophytes and calcific opacities in the middle of the vertebral body.
  • MRI is a considerable advance in the use of imaging to diagnose cervical spondylosis. It offers the following advantages:
    • Direct imaging in multiple planes
    • Better definition of neural elements
    • Increased accuracy in evaluating intrinsic spinal cord diseases
    • Noninvasiveness
    • Myelogramlike images
  • High–signal-intensity lesions can be seen on magnetic resonance images of spinal cord compression; this finding indicates a poor prognosis.
  • False-positive and false-negative MRI results occur frequently in patients with cervical radiculopathy; therefore, MRI results and clinical findings should be used when interpreting root compression.[9]

A study by Banaszek et al indicated that diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) can demonstrate spinal cord impairment in patients with early stage cervical spondylosis before such impairment is visible on plain MRI scans. The study involved 132 symptomatic patients with varying degrees of cervical spondylosis, as well as 25 control subjects. Examining spinal segments from C2/C3 to C5/C6, the investigators found significant differences in fractional anisotropy values between the control subjects and the patients with cervical spondylosis, including early stage patients who did not yet show spinal cord compression on plain MRI scans. According to the investigators, the mean fractional anisotropy values were significantly associated with the anteroposterior diameter of the spinal canal and with space available for the spinal cord index.[10]

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Other Tests

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  • Electromyography is useful in evaluating radiculopathy caused by spondylosis when the diagnosis of radiculopathy is in question, but it may have only limited value in assessing myelopathy.
  • In myelopathy, somatosensory evoked potential (SSEP) responses are delayed or have a low amplitude.[11]
  • Cortical motor evoked potentials (MEP) may be more sensitive than SSEPs in evaluating spinal cord dysfunction.[12, 13]
  • As an invasive procedure, cervical diskography is not commonly used in the evaluation of cervical spondylosis.
  • Urodynamic studies may be helpful in evaluating bladder incontinence (see Other Treatment).
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Histologic Findings

Thinning and fragmentation of the articular cartilage may be observed. The normal smooth, white articular surface becomes irregular and yellow. Continued loss of articular cartilage leads to exposure of areas of subchondral bone, which appear as shiny foci on the articular surface (eburnation). Fibrosis, increased bone formation, and cystic changes frequently occur in the underlying bone. Loss of articular cartilage stimulates new bone formation, usually in the form of nodules (osteophytes) at the bone edges.

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Contributor Information and Disclosures
Author

Hassan Ahmad Hassan Al-Shatoury, MD, PhD, MHPE Associate Professor, Department of Neurosurgery, Suez Canal University; Co-Director, Center of Research and Development in Medical Education and Health Services Suez Canal University Hospital

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Coauthor(s)

Ayman Ali Galhom, MD, PhD Lecturer (Associated Professor), Department of Neurosurgery, Suez Canal University Faculty of Medicine, Egypt

Ayman Ali Galhom, MD, PhD is a member of the following medical societies: Congress of Neurological Surgeons

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Patrick M Foye, MD Director of Coccyx Pain Center, Professor and Interim Chair of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School; Co-Director of Musculoskeletal Fellowship, Co-Director of Back Pain Clinic, University Hospital

Patrick M Foye, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, International Spine Intervention Society, American Association of Neuromuscular and Electrodiagnostic Medicine, Association of Academic Physiatrists

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Dean H Hommer, MD Chief, Department of Pain Management, Brooke Army Medical Center

Dean H Hommer, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Medical Acupuncture, American Academy of Pain Medicine, American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, American Association of Neuromuscular and Electrodiagnostic Medicine, American College of Healthcare Executives, American College of Sports Medicine, American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine, American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians, American Society of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Curtis W Slipman, MD Director, University of Pennsylvania Spine Center; Associate Professor, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, University of Pennsylvania Medical Center

Curtis W Slipman, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Association of Academic Physiatrists, International Association for the Study of Pain, North American Spine Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Acknowledgements

The editors would like to thank Franklin C Wagner, Jr, MD, Former Chief, Division of Spine and Spinal Cord Surgery, Former Professor, Department of Neurosurgery, University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine, for his previous association with this article.

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A cervical myelogram shows advanced spondylotic changes and multiple compression of the spinal cord by osteophytes.
A 59-year-old woman presented with a spastic gait and weakness in her upper extremities. A T2-weighted sagittal magnetic resonance imaging scan shows cord compression from cervical spondylosis, which caused central spondylotic myelopathy. Note the signal changes in the cord at C4-C5, the ventral osteophytosis, buckling of the ligamentum flavum at C3-C4, and the prominent loss of disk height between C2 and C5.
A T2-weighted cervical magnetic resonance imaging scan shows obliteration of the subarachnoid space as a result of spondylotic changes.
A 48-year-old man presented with neck pain and predominantly left-sided radicular symptoms in the arm. The patient's symptoms resolved with conservative therapy. An axial, gradient-echo magnetic resonance imaging scan shows moderate anteroposterior narrowing of the cord space due to a ventral osteophyte at the C4 level, with bilateral narrowing of the neural foramina (more prominently on the left side).
A 48-year-old man presented with neck pain and predominantly left-sided radicular symptoms in the arm. The patient's symptoms resolved with conservative therapy. A T2-weighted sagittal magnetic resonance imaging scan shows ventral osteophytosis, most prominent between C4 and C7, with reduction of the ventral cerebrospinal fluid sleeve.
 
 
 
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