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Posttraumatic Syringomyelia Workup

  • Author: Lance L Goetz, MD; Chief Editor: Stephen Kishner, MD, MHA  more...
 
Updated: Dec 21, 2015
 

Laboratory Studies

See the list below:

  • Pulmonary function tests, especially vital capacity, should be ordered on any patient with symptoms or suggested respiratory impairment. Serial studies are useful to document and monitor for progression.
  • No specific laboratory blood studies have proven useful in the diagnosis or monitoring of PTS.
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Imaging Studies

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  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), myelography-enhanced computed tomography (CT-myelogram), and plain radiographs of the spine are useful in the diagnosis and management of PTS.
  • MRI is the preferred initial imaging study for the diagnosis of PTS. Most PTS develops around the site of the original spinal cord lesion. T1 and T2 sequences provide differentiation between CSF and normal spinal cord tissue and areas of spinal cord edema, myelomalacia, or gliosis. Serial examinations are necessary to evaluate for changes in cavity size over time. In addition, there is a marked lack of correlation between cavity size and severity of clinical symptoms. (See images below.)
    T1-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan T1-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of a slender syrinx (arrow) extending from the C5 vertebral level. This syrinx extends beyond the image to an area of spinal cord disruption at the T3 vertebral level.
    Same patient as in image above, with the magnetic Same patient as in image above, with the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan slightly farther down the cervicothoracic region of the spine
  • CT-myelography delineates the extent of the syrinx cavity, arachnoid scarring, and tethering of the spinal cord. This study demonstrates the extent of obstruction to CSF flow.
  • Radiographs of the spine delineate spinal deformities such as fractures, dislocations, and abnormal spinal kyphotic or lordotic changes. Flexion/extension views assist in evaluation of spinal stability.
  • Ultrasonography may be used intraoperatively after laminectomy to visualize syrinx cavities and septations.
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Other Tests

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  • Serial quantitative strength measurements including pinch and grip tests or hand-held myometry are useful in confirming progression of weakness.
  • Calculation of the central motor conduction time using motor evoked potentials is useful in monitoring PTS; however, this technique is not widely available.
  • Standard electromyographic techniques, including nerve conduction studies, F-wave latencies, and needle electromyography (EMG), are less sensitive and specific in detecting PTS. Needle EMG may demonstrate a variety of abnormalities, including continuous motor unit activity, synchronous motor unit potentials, myokymic discharges, segmental and propriospinal myoclonus, and respiratory synkinesis. However, as these studies are best used to exclude other causes for the person's symptoms.
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Histologic Findings

On pathologic section, cavitation of the gray matter is seen within the spinal cord. This phenomenon may involve the central canal or may be located eccentrically. An inner layer of gliotic tissue usually is present. The gray matter between the dorsal horns and posterior columns often is involved, possibly because of its relative avascularity and lack of connective tissue. Multiple cyst cavities, separated by complete or partial septae, are often present.

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Contributor Information and Disclosures
Author

Lance L Goetz, MD Staff Physician, Spinal Cord Injury and Disorders, Hunter Holmes McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center; Associate Professor, Director, Spinal Cord Injury Medicine Fellowships, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine

Lance L Goetz, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Academy of Spinal Cord Injury Professionals, American Spinal Injury Association, Association of Academic Physiatrists, International Spinal Cord Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Coauthor(s)

Revati Mummaneni, MD Chief Resident, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine

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

Stephen Kishner, MD, MHA Professor of Clinical Medicine, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Residency Program Director, Louisiana State University School of Medicine in New Orleans

Stephen Kishner, MD, MHA is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, American Association of Neuromuscular and Electrodiagnostic Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Robert L Sheridan, MD Assistant Chief of Staff, Chief of Burn Surgery, Shriners Burns Hospital; Associate Professor of Surgery, Department of Surgery, Division of Trauma and Burns, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School

Robert L Sheridan, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association for the Surgery of Trauma, American Burn Association, American College of Surgeons

Disclosure: Received research grant from: Shriners Hospitals for Children; Physical Sciences Inc<br/>Received income in an amount equal to or greater than $250 from: SimQuest Inc -- consultant on burn mapping softwear ($1,500).

Acknowledgements

Michael Priebe, MD Associate Professor, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Mayo Clinic of Rochester, Minnesota

Michael Priebe, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine, American Paraplegia Society, American Spinal Injury Association, International Society of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine, and International Spinal Cord Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

References
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This illustration shows a T1-weighted, cervical magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of multiple syrinx cavities (arrows). Note the lowest thin cavity extending into the thoracic spinal cord.
This T2-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan (same patient as above) delineates the syrinx cavity. Note the spinal cord edema extending rostrally from the upper limit of the cavity.
T2-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan (same patient as above) after patient underwent expansile duraplasty. Note dramatic reduction in size of the main syrinx cavity (white).
T2-weighted sagittal image of large, multiloculated cervical syrinx extending into brainstem. Patient had preserved functional status.
T1-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of a slender syrinx (arrow) extending from the C5 vertebral level. This syrinx extends beyond the image to an area of spinal cord disruption at the T3 vertebral level.
Same patient as in image above, with the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan slightly farther down the cervicothoracic region of the spine
T2 proton density magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan demonstrating syrinx cavity (arrow) extending from approximately C6-C7 to T2. The syrinx cavity is 9 mm at its widest dimension. The spinal cord is reduced to a thin membrane at this level and is atrophic below.
T1-weighted image demonstrating a large, multiloculated cervical syrinx cavity. This is a recurrent syrinx, having come back despite an attempt at drainage utilizing expansile duraplasty.
 
 
 
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