Cervical myelopathy (CM) is a common and debilitating form of spinal cord injury caused by chronic compression; however, little is known about the in vivo mechanics of the healthy spinal cord during motion and how these mechanics are altered in CM. The authors sought to measure 3D in vivo spinal cord displacement and strain fields from MR images obtained during physiological motion of healthy individuals and cervical myelopathic patients.
Nineteen study participants, 9 healthy controls and 10 CM patients, were enrolled in the study. All study participants had 3T MR images acquired of the cervical spine in neutral, flexed, and extended positions. Displacement and strain fields and corresponding principal strain were obtained from the MR images using image registration.
The healthy spinal cord displaces superiorly in flexion and inferiorly in extension. Principal strain is evenly distributed along the spinal cord. The CM spinal cord displaces less than the healthy cord and the magnitude of principal strain is higher, at the midcervical levels.
Increased spinal cord compression during cervical myelopathy limits motion of the spinal cord and increases spinal cord strain during physiological motion. Future studies are needed to investigate how treatment, such as surgical intervention, affects spinal cord mechanics.