Data regarding risk factors for the progression of ossification of the posterior longitudinal ligament (OPLL) in the thoracic spine are scarce. Therefore, in this study, the authors aimed to elucidate the difference in the radiographic progression pattern of OPLL and its risk factors between cervical and thoracic OPLL using longitudinally acquired whole-spine CT scans.
Overall, 123 patients with symptomatic OPLL who underwent repeated whole-spine CT examinations, with an average interval of 49 months (at least 3 years) between scans, were retrospectively reviewed. Progression of OPLL was assessed to compare the distribution of OPLL over the entire spine on the initial and final CT scans. Patients were divided into a cervical OPLL (C-OPLL) group and a thoracic OPLL (T-OPLL) group according to the location of the main lesion. The progression pattern of OPLL and its risk factors were compared between the two groups using the Student t-test or Mann-Whitney U-test.
In the C-OPLL group, 15 (22.1%) of 68 patients had OPLL progression, of whom 12 patients (80.0%) had progression only in the cervical spine and 3 patients (20.0%) had progression in multiple regions (cervical and thoracic/lumbar). In the T-OPLL group, 16 (29.1%) of 55 patients had OPLL progression, of which 3 patients (18.8%) had progression only in the thoracic spine and 8 patients (50.0%) had progression in multiple regions. Young age was a common risk factor for OPLL progression regardless of the location of OPLL, and this trend was more pronounced in the T-OPLL group than in the C-OPLL group. High BMI, male sex, and multilevel, severe T-OPLL were identified as independent risk factors for progression of T-OPLL (OR 1.19, 95% CI 1.03–1.37; OR 10.5, 95% CI 1.39–81.94; and OR 1.24, 95% CI 1.16–1.45, respectively).
Patients with T-OPLL are predisposed to diffuse progression of OPLL over the entire spine, whereas patients with C-OPLL are likely to have progression in only the cervical spine. Young age and high BMI are significant risk factors for OPLL progression, especially in patients with T-OPLL. Our study highlights the need for continued follow-up in patients with T-OPLL, especially in young patients and those with obesity, for early detection of spinal cord and cauda equina symptoms due to the progression of OPLL throughout the spine.