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This article is the author’s final published version in Global Spine Journal, Volume 12, Issue 1, February 2022, Pages 39S - 54S.

The published version is available at Copyright © Nouri et al.


Study design: Narrative review.

Objectives: To discuss the current understanding of the natural history of degenerative cervical myelopathy (DCM).

Methods: Literature review summarizing current evidence pertaining to the natural history and risk factors of DCM.

Results: DCM is a common condition in which progressive arthritic disease of the cervical spine leads to spinal cord compression resulting in a constellation of neurological symptoms, in particular upper extremity dysfunction and gait impairment. Anatomical factors including cord-canal mismatch, congenitally fused vertebrae and genetic factors may increase individuals' risk for DCM development. Non-myelopathic spinal cord compression (NMSCC) is a common phenomenon with a prevalence of 24.2% in the healthy population, and 35.3% among individuals >60 years of age. Clinical radiculopathy and/or electrophysiological signs of cervical cord dysfunction appear to be risk factors for myelopathy development. Radiological progression of incidental Ossification of the Posterior Longitudinal Ligament (OPLL) is estimated at 18.3% over 81-months and development of myelopathy ranges between 0-61.5% (follow-up ranging from 40 to 124 months between studies) among studies. In patients with symptomatic DCM undergoing non-operative treatment, 20-62% will experience neurological deterioration within 3-6 years.

Conclusion: Current estimates surrounding the natural history of DCM, particularly those individuals with mild or minimal impairment, lack precision. Clear predictors of clinical deterioration for those treated with non-operative care are yet to be identified. Future studies are needed on this topic to help improve treatment counseling and clinical prognostication.

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

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