Edit concept Question Editor Create issue ticket


Spinal Cord

Myelopathy is an umbrella term for various problems affecting the spinal region. 


Myelopathy may present with neck stiffness along with severe pain in the either one or both sides of the neck. The pain and associated stiffness may radiate to the arms and shoulders. Individuals suffering from myelopathy, experience lack of control and significant loss of coordination while carrying out certain activities. In the initial stages, individuals may face problem while walking or with maintaining balance. There may be associated muscle weakness and individuals also report a certain degree of disability. Other symptoms include development of stabbing pain in the elbow, arm, fingers and wrist and hyperreflexia. Certain percentage of individuals also experience incontinence and sexual dysfunction.

Back Pain
  • Although most previous studies reported alkaptonuria and back pain due to ochronosis, thoracic myelopathy is an extremely rare complication.[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
  • Common initial symptoms were back pain and low extremity weakness. Surgery was performed on 9 patients, biopsy on 2 patients, and radiation therapy on 1 patient.[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
  • Symptoms usually start with back pain and rapidly progress to complete or incomplete myelopathy. T2 magnetic resonance images show increased signal in the central spinal cord within 24 to 72 hours.[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
  • Donald Corenman, MD, DC is a highly-regarded spine surgeon, considered an expert in the area of neck and back pain. Trained as both a Medical Doctor and Doctor of Chiropractic, Dr.[neckandback.com]
  • The Veritas Health platform comprising of Spine-health.com , Arthritis-health.com , Sports-health.com , and Pain-health.com , provides comprehensive information on back pain, arthritis, sports injuries, and chronic pain conditions.[spine-health.com]
  • Clinical hyperreflexia was tested at the MCP joint, using a six-axis load cell. Reflex was simulated by quickly moving the joint from maximum flexion to maximum extension (300 /second).[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
  • Symptoms and Signs Cord compression commonly causes gradual spastic paresis, paresthesias, or both in the hands and feet and may cause hyperreflexia. Neurologic deficits may be asymmetric, nonsegmental, and aggravated by cough or Valsalva maneuvers.[merckmanuals.com]
  • Clinical features vary depending on the level of the lesion and include local pain , stiffness, and impaired sensation, hypotonia , and hyporeflexia at the level of the lesion, and spasticity and hyperreflexia below the level of the injury level.[amboss.com]
  • Physical examination commonly elicits long tract signs such as spasticity, hyperreflexia, and abnormal reflexes such as Babinski or Hoffman's sign.[neurosurgery.ucla.edu]
  • […] and symptoms depend on which spinal cord level (cervical, thoracic, or lumbar) is affected and the extent (anterior, posterior, or lateral) of the pathology, and may include: Upper motor neuron signs—weakness, spasticity, clumsiness, altered tonus, hyperreflexia[en.wikipedia.org]
  • […] see: exam of spinal cord - presentation: ( Bertalanffy, et al ) - 61% presented with radicular symptoms - 16% had pure myelopathic symptoms - 23% had a combination of myelopathic and radiculopathy - upper motor neuron findings such as hyper-reflexia, clonus[wheelessonline.com]
  • […] or paresthesia in the upper extremities Sensory changes in the lower extremities Motor weakness in the extremities Gait difficulties ("spastic gait," hesitant and jerky) Myelopathic or "upper motor neuron" findings such as spasticity, hyperreflexia, clonus[emoryhealthcare.org]
  • She was diffusely hyper-reflexic with sustained right ankle clonus, positive crossed adductor, suprapatellar, and pectoralis reflexes, bilateral plantar extensor responses, and positive Hoffmann’s signs.[touchneurology.com]
  • Lower extremity findings of hyper-reflexia, spasticity, clonus, positive Babinski, and bowel and bladder dysfunction.[spineuniverse.com]
  • CSM is that it will involve the axial skeleton and skip the head and face. 9 Clark suggested that sensory findings usually include preservation of touch, loss of pain and temperature, loss of proprioception and vibration below the level of lesion. 2 Clonus[dynamicchiropractic.com]
  • Sometimes the cord and nerve roots are affected, causing radiculomyelopathy. Manifestations vary according to the neural structures involved but commonly include pain.[msdmanuals.com]
  • Surg Neurol 58: 194–207 PubMed CrossRef Google Scholar Fouyas IP, Statham PF, Sandercock PA, Lynch C (2001) Surgery for cervical radiculomyelopathy.[link.springer.com]
  • "Cochrane review on the role of surgery in cervical spondylotic radiculomyelopathy." Spine 27.7 (2002): 736-747. Shimomura, Takatoshi, et al.[physio-pedia.com]
Spastic Paraplegia
  • Budka H, Sluga E, Heiss WD, Spastic Paraplegia Associated with Addisons-Disease - Adult Variant of Adreno-Leukodystrophy, J Neurol , 1976;213:237–50. 7.[touchneurology.com]
  • Positive findings on neurologic examination included a left afferent papillary defect, spastic paraplegia with hyperreflexia, crossed adductor responses, ankle clonus, and bilateral Babinski signs.[jamanetwork.com]
  • Among genetic disorders, hereditary spastic paraplegias (HSP) and adrenomyeloneuropathy are perhaps the most obvious mimics. But patients with Friedreich's ataxia can present with a predominant spastic paraparesis, resembling a myelopathy.[pn.bmj.com]
Long Tract Signs
  • Physical examination commonly elicits long tract signs such as spasticity, hyperreflexia, and abnormal reflexes such as Babinski or Hoffman's sign.[neurosurgery.ucla.edu]
  • […] extremities; - Brown-Séquard syndrome : - ipsilateral motor deficits with contralateral sensory deficits - may be the least advanced form of the disease; - Brachialgia and cord syndrome: radicular pain in the upper extremity along with motor and/or sensory long-tract[wheelessonline.com]
  • When the stenosis and myelopathy is severe, most patients will develop long tract signs (UMN) consisting of a wide-based gait, balance difficulties, and weakness.[uscspine.com]
Urinary Incontinence
  • Urinary frequency and urgency, occasional dysuria, and urinary incontinence developed in the few weeks before admission. Four months earlier, she had undergone an extensive evaluation.[jamanetwork.com]


The signs and symptoms of the condition are carefully observed and taken note of. This is followed by physical neurologic examination that would involve testing reflexes, including abdominal reflexes, along with sensory testing of the body. This will be followed by laboratory tests to analyze levels of vitamin B12 or heavy metals present in the blood. Levels of white blood cells and erythrocyte sedimentation rate would also be tested, to examine infection or inflammation as the source of myelopathy. 

Lumbar puncture test would also be done in order to rule out multiple sclerosis or meningitis. Imaging studies such as CT scan, radionuclide bone scan and MRI of spinal cord will also be required [7]. In conditions, when the diagnostic procedures results are inconclusive, then bone biopsies or cultures are indicated.


Treatment is geared towards treating the underlying disease condition and effective management of symptoms. In case of fracture or dislocation of vertebrae, the patient is put on traction, followed by immobilization for several weeks [8]. Rehabilitation therapy would also be required and medications to relieve pain and stiffness would also be employed.

Steroid medications to relieve inflammation due to arthritis are also indicated. If the pain is severe, then steroid injections may be given. These are given in the epidural region and used only in cases when conservative treatment did not bring about the desired effect [9].

In instances, when medications and physical therapy do not yield positive results, then surgery would be opted for. Surgical procedures to relieve nerve compression would be carried out. In many cases, spinal fusion would also accompany the surgical procedure in order to reduce the risks of complications after surgery [10].


Prognosis depends on the causative factors. For example, in case of infection complete recovery is possible. When traction is imparted and there are no signs of residual damage to the spinal column, then too complete recovery is a possibility. Surgery may be required in certain cases to relieve the nerve under pressure. Failure to do so can lead to irreversible permanent damage in the long run. However, in many instances, other forms of treatment to manage the symptoms are required. Recovery following removal of herniated disc is favorable and prognosis is excellent if there is no residual damage to the spinal cord [6].


Aging process that causes normal wear and tear in the spinal region is one of the major causes of myelopathy. In addition to aging, accidents or other traumatic events are other significant factors that can cause nerve deficit in the spinal cord. Other causes include spinal stenosis, development of tumor in the spinal column, degenerative disorders governing the disc and disease conditions such as multiple sclerosis. In many instances, inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis can also give rise to the condition of myelopathy. Congenital abnormalities and infections can also lead to the disorder, but such cases are rare.


The exact prevalence of myelopathy is unknown. However, the incidence rate of various causes that gives rise to the condition has been reported. Statistics have revealed, that in US, there are about 12,000 to 15,000 spinal cord injuries every year [3].

It was also estimated that, cervical myelopathy strikes approximately 50% of men and 33% women aged 60 years and above. This clearly explains that age is the major factor for development of myelopathy. Prevalence rate of tumors in the spinal region is reported to be 0.5 to 2.5 per 100, 000 individuals in US. In addition, it was also reported that, 5 to 10% individuals with cancer are also likely to develop tumor in the epidural region, which is known to cause about 25,000 cases of myelopathy.

Sex distribution
Age distribution


Aging causes degenerative changes to take place in the spine, paving way for development of myelopathy. Degenerative changes may exert pressure on the cartilage preventing the joints in the spine from working properly. This in turn favors the degeneration to continue causing further damage to the spinal region. Myelopathy can also occur due to herniated discs which also favor nerve compression [4].

Myelopathy that occurs due to trauma or accident, significantly affects the muscles and ligaments that support and cushion the spine. Accidents can also lead to bone dislocation which in turn compresses the neighboring nerve giving rise to myelopathy [5].


It is not always possible to prevent the onset of myelopathy. Aging process cannot be controlled, but certain factors can be adopted to keep the spinal column and neighboring muscles strong. Steps to prevent accidents should also be taken. However, in unforeseen situations, individuals are advised to undergo complete treatment plan to avoid irreversible damage to the spinal cord.


Development of disorders in the spinal region that gradually inflict compression is the major reason for occurrence of myelopathy. Nerve compression by osteophytes or extruded disk in the cervical region is a common cause of myelopathy. It is known to be one of the major causes of neck and cervical pain. When nerves in the spine region get compressed due to accident or trauma, the condition is then referred to as spinal cord injury [1]. When myelopathy occurs due to infections or inflammations, the condition is known as myelitis and when the disease is vascular in nature, it is known as vascular myelopathy [2].

Patient Information

  • Definition: Myelopathy refers to diseases governing the spinal cord. There are several types of myelopathy, which have been named based on their causative factors. These include radiation myelopathy which occurs as a complication of radiation therapy, compressive myelopathy which develops due to pressure exerted from a mass or hematoma or carcinomatous myelopathy occurs due to development of cancerous tumor in the spinal column.
  • Cause: Various factors give rise to myelopathy. These include aging, various disease conditions such as arthritis, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory diseases, infections and tumor. Accidents and trauma are other potential factors that can give rise to myelopathy.
  • Symptoms: In the initial stages, symptoms are mild and often go unnoticed. Affected individuals complain of pain in one or both the arms which is often accompanied by stiffness. There is also significant pain in the fingers and wrist. Individuals also complain of loss of balance and may even suffer from incontinence.
  • Diagnosis: Preliminary physical examination is done followed by laboratory tests to assess complete blood count and sedimentation rate. This is done to analyze infections and inflammations as the causative factors. In addition, imaging studies such as CT scan and MRI are also indicated.
  • Treatment: Treatment is cause dependent and is majorly geared towards correcting the underlying condition in order to relieve the nerve compression. Conservative treatment approach is adopted initially followed by steroid injections and surgery if other methods fail.



  1. Garland DE, Stewart CA, Adkins RH, et al. Osteoporosis after spinal cord injury. J Orthop Res. May 1992;10(3):371-8
  2. Rubin MN, Rabinstein AA. Vascular diseases of the spinal cord. Neurol Clin. Feb 2013;31(1):153-81.
  3. Ackery A, Tator C, Krassioukov A. A global perspective on spinal cord injury epidemiology. J Neurotrauma 2004; 21:1355.
  4. Chiles BW 3rd, Leonard MA, Choudhri HF, Cooper PR. Cervical spondylotic myelopathy: patterns of neurological deficit and recovery after anterior cervical decompression. Neurosurgery 1999; 44:762.
  5. Allen AR. Remarks on the histopathological changes in the spinal cord due to impact an experimental study. J Ner Ment Dis 1914; 41:141.
  6. Menter RR, Hudson LM. Spinal cord injury clinical outcomes. In: Stover S, ed. The Model Systems. New York, NY: Aspen Pubs; 1995:272.
  7. Antevil JL, Sise MJ, Sack DI, et al. Spiral computed tomography for the initial evaluation of spine trauma: A new standard of care? J Trauma 2006; 61:382.
  8. Cervical spine immobilization before admission to the hospital. Neurosurgery 2002; 50:S7.
  9. Bracken MB. Steroids for acute spinal cord injury. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2012; 1:CD001046.
  10. Kadanka Z, Mares M, Bednarík J, et al. Predictive factors for mild forms of spondylotic cervical myelopathy treated conservatively or surgically. Eur J Neurol 2005; 12:16.

Ask Question

5000 Characters left Format the text using: # Heading, **bold**, _italic_. HTML code is not allowed.
By publishing this question you agree to the TOS and Privacy policy.
• Use a precise title for your question.
• Ask a specific question and provide age, sex, symptoms, type and duration of treatment.
• Respect your own and other people's privacy, never post full names or contact information.
• Inappropriate questions will be deleted.
• In urgent cases contact a physician, visit a hospital or call an emergency service!
Last updated: 2017-08-09 17:51