non-traumatic spinal cord injury

Degenerative Cervical Myelopathy: Navigating Management in the Primary Care Setting


Karlo M. Pedro, MD,1 James Milligan, MD,2 Michael G. Fehlings, MD, PhD,3

1 Division of Neurosurgery, Krembil Neuroscience Centre, University Health Network, Toronto, ON, Canada.
2 McMaster University, Department of Family Medicine, Hamilton, ON, Canada.
3Division of Neurosurgery and Spine Program, Department of Surgery, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada.


Abstract: Degenerative cervical myelopathy (DCM) is a progressive and acquired spinal disorder that represents a potentially reversible cause of spinal cord impairment among adults. It remains underdiagnosed due to a low level of awareness amongst the public and healthcare professionals. Diagnosis is anchored on high clinical suspicion after a thorough history and physical examination and confirmed using magnetic resonance (MR) imaging of the cervical spine. Improving early diagnosis and ensuring timely surgical intervention are crucial in preventing long-term disability and optimizing long-term outcomes for DCM patients.
Key Words:degenerative cervical myelopathy, myelopathy, non-traumatic spinal cord injury, primary care.

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DCM is the most common cause of non-traumatic spinal cord dysfunction among adults worldwide
DCM is a potentially reversible disease with profound neurologic implications if left untreated
A thorough history and physical examination, supplemented with MR imaging of the cervical spine, are key elements to avoid misdiagnosis and delays in management
The hallmark signs of DCM are deterioration of hand motor function (eg. decreased coordination/clumsiness) as well as gait instability
MRI is the imaging of choice to confirm a diagnosis of DCM
Surgery is the only proven therapy that can halt the progression of DCM
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