Lower motor neuron signs--weakness, clumsiness in the muscle group innervated at the level of spinal cord compromise, muscle atrophy, hyporeflexia, muscle hypotonicity or flaccidity, fasciculations
Bowel/bladder symptoms and sexual dysfunction
Diagnosis of myelopathy
Myelopathy is primarily diagnosed by clinical exam findings. Because the term myelopathy describes a clinical syndrome that can be caused by many pathologies the differential diagnosis of myelopathy is extensive. In some cases the onset of myelopathy is rapid, in others, such as CSM, the course may be insidious with symptoms developing slowly over a period of months. As a consequence, the diagnosis of CSM is often delayed. As the disease is thought to be progressive, this may impact negatively on outcome.
Diagnosis of etiology
Once the clinical diagnosis myelopathy is established, the underlying cause must be investigated. Most commonly this involves medical imaging. The best way to visualize the spinal cord is magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Apart from T1 and T2 MRI images, which are commonly used for routine diagnosis, more recently researchers are exploring quantitative MRI signals. Further imaging modalities used for evaluating myelopathy include plain X-rays for detecting arthritic changes of the bones, and Computer Tomography, which is often used for pre-operative planning of surgical interventions for cervical spondylotic myelopathy. Angiography is used to examine blood vessels in suspected cases of vascular myelopathy.
The presence and severity of myelopathy can also be evaluated by means of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a neurophysiological method that allows the measurement of the time required for a neural impulse to cross the pyramidal tracts, starting from the cerebral cortex and ending at the anterior horn cells of the cervical, thoracic or lumbar spinal cord. This measurement is called Central Conduction Time (CCT). TMS can aid physicians to:
Determine whether myelopathy exists
Identify the level of the spinal cord where myelopathy is located. This is especially useful in cases where more than two lesions may be responsible for the clinical symptoms and signs, such as in patients with two or more cervical disc hernias
Follow-up the progression of myelopathy in time, for example before and after cervical spine surgery
TMS can also help in the differential diagnosis of different causes of pyramidal tract damage.
The treatment and prognosis of myelopathy depends on the underlying cause: myelopathy caused by infection requires medical treatment with pathogen specific antibiotics. Similarly, specific treatments exist for multiple sclerosis, which may also present with myelopathy. As outlined above, the most common form of myelopathy is secondary to degeneration of the cervical spine. Newer findings have challenged the existing controversy with respect to surgery for cervical spondylotic myelopathy by demonstrating that patients benefit from surgery.
^Chen R, Cros D, Curra A, Di Lazzaro V, Lefaucheur JP, Magistris MR, Mills K, Rösler KM, Triggs WJ, Ugawa Y, Ziemann U. The clinical diagnostic utility of transcranial magnetic stimulation: report of an IFCN committee. Clin Neurophysiol. 2008 Mar;119(3):504-32.
^Deftereos SN, et al. (April-June 2009). "Localisation of cervical spinal cord compression by TMS and MRI". Funct Neurol. 24 (2): 99-105. PMID19775538.
^Chen R, Cros D, Curra A, et al. (March 2008). "The clinical diagnostic utility of transcranial magnetic stimulation: report of an IFCN committee". Clin Neurophysiol. 119 (3): 504-32. doi:10.1016/j.clinph.2007.10.014. PMID18063409.