A retrospective study of degenerative cervical myelopathy and the surgical management within Northern Ireland

Laura M Saunders, Hushil S Sandhu, Lorcán McBride, Vindhya S Maniarasu, Samantha Taylor, Rakesh Dhokia

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Introduction: Degenerative cervical myelopathy (DCM) is a condition of growing concern due to its increasing incidence among the ageing population. It involves age-associated pathological changes of the cervical spine that can result in spinal cord compression. This can lead to deficits in motor and sensory function of the upper and lower limbs, issues with balance and dexterity, as well as bladder and bowel disturbance. Patients can be categorised as having mild, moderate, or severe degenerative cervical myelopathy depending on their modified Japanese Orthopaedic Association (mJOA) score. This condition is generally managed surgically; however, patients with mild degenerative cervical myelopathy may be offered or opt for non-surgical treatment initially.

Aims: The main aim of this study is to evaluate the surgical management of patients with DCM and to ascertain the degree of mJOA improvement from pre-surgery and one-year post-surgery follow-up. The second aim of the study is to explore the demographics within Northern Ireland who are diagnosed with DCM and who undergo surgery. This information could allow for better planning of services in the future for this patient cohort.

Methods: This is a retrospective review of the surgical management of degenerative cervical myelopathy within the Regional Spinal Orthopaedic Unit in Northern Ireland over three years with one-year follow-up. The data was retrospectively collected from the Fracture Outcome Research Database. A total of 102 patients (10:7, male:female) with DCM were retrospectively evaluated. Exclusion criteria included all patients diagnosed with spinal tumour, fracture, central cord syndrome, and dislocation. Two patients were removed due to incorrect coding of DCM diagnosis and were not included. Key variables assessed were gender, age, symptoms, type of surgery, complications, and MRC score and mJOA score pre-surgery, 48 hours, six months, and one year post surgery. The choice of surgery was guided by the maximal angle of compression, the number of vertebral levels involved, patient comorbidities, and anesthetic risk.

Results: The sample consisted of 60 men (58.82%) and 42 women (41.17%) with an average age of 57.17 ± 12.13 years ranging from 27 to 83 years old. Statistical analysis was conducted to explore the effect of time before and after surgery up to one year on the mJOA score. There was a significant difference in mJOA score pre-surgery and at six months and one year post surgery (R = 0.579053, p < 0.001). Of the patients, 61.8% with a length of stay greater than three days and 71.4% of patients with a length of stay greater than seven days had a posterior approach surgery. A multiple linear regression analysis revealed that the mJOA score pre-surgery and the presence of complications significantly predicted the length of stay post-surgery (β -1.044, p = .011 and β -5.791, p = .028).

Conclusion: The first key finding of this study is that the mJOA score tends to improve after surgery for the majority of patients, particularly at six months, which is consistent with the literature. The second key finding is that anterior approach surgery is associated with a lower rate of complications and shorter post-surgery length of stay in hospital compared to posterior approach surgery. The third key finding is that the pre-surgery mJOA score and the presence of complications post surgery significantly predict the post-surgery length of stay.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere49513
Issue number11
Early online date27 Nov 2023
Publication statusEarly online date - 27 Nov 2023


  • spinal cord compression injury
  • northern ireland
  • orthopaedic
  • retrospective
  • degenerative cervical myelopathy
  • length of stay


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