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A comparison of radiological descriptions of spinal cord compression with quantitative measures, and their role in non-specialist clinical management.

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Tempest-Mitchell, Jennifer  ORCID logo
Davies, Benjamin M 
Nouri, Aria 
Hutchinson, Peter J 


INTRODUCTION: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is gold-standard for investigating Degenerative Cervical Myelopathy (DCM), a disabling disease triggered by compression of the spinal cord following degenerative changes of adjacent structures. Quantifiable compression correlates poorly with disease and language describing compression in radiological reports is un-standardised. STUDY DESIGN: Retrospective chart review. OBJECTIVES: 1) Identify terminology in radiological reporting of cord compression and elucidate relationships between language and quantitative measures 2) Evaluate language's ability to distinguish myelopathic from asymptomatic compression 3) Explore correlations between quantitative or qualitative features and symptom severity 4) Investigate the influence of quantitative and qualitative measures on surgical referrals. METHODS: From all cervical spine MRIs conducted during one year at a tertiary centre (N = 1123), 166 patients had reported cord compression. For each spinal level deemed compressed by radiologists (N = 218), four quantitative measurements were calculated: 'Maximum Canal Compromise (MCC); 'Maximum Spinal Cord Compression' (MSCC); 'Spinal Canal Occupation Ratio' (SCOR) and 'Compression Ratio' (CR). These were compared to associated radiological reporting terminology. RESULTS: 1) Terminology in radiological reports was varied. Objective measures of compromise correlated poorly with language. "Compressed" was used for more severe cord compromise as measured by MCC (p<0.001), MSCC (p<0.001), and CR (p = 0.002). 2) Greater compromise was seen in cords with a myelopathy diagnosis across MCC (p<0.001); MSCC (p = 0.002) and CR (p<0.001). "Compress" (p<0.001) and "Flatten" (p<0.001) were used more commonly for myelopathy-diagnosis levels. 3) Measurements of cord compromise (MCC: p = 0.304; MSCC: p = 0.217; SCOR: p = 0.503; CR: p = 0.256) and descriptive terms (p = 0.591) did not correlate with i-mJOA score. 4) The only variables affecting spinal surgery referral were increased MSCC (p = 0.001) and use of 'Compressed' (p = 0.045). CONCLUSIONS: Radiological reporting in DCM is variable and language is not fully predictive of the degree of quantitative cord compression. Additionally, terminology may influence surgical referrals.



Adult, Aged, Aged, 80 and over, Cervical Vertebrae, Female, Humans, Male, Middle Aged, Spinal Cord Compression, Young Adult

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PLoS One

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Public Library of Science (PLoS)
Department of Health (via National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)) (CS-2015-15-023)
Medical Research Council (MC_PC_12009)
Welcome Trust NIHR