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Sebastian Siller, Rami Kasem, Thomas-Nikolaus Witt, Joerg-Christian Tonn, and Stefan Zausinger

OBJECTIVE

Various neurological diseases are known to cause progressive painless paresis of the upper limbs. In this study the authors describe the previously unspecified syndrome of compression-induced painless cervical radiculopathy with predominant motor deficit and muscular atrophy, and highlight the clinical and radiological characteristics and outcomes after surgery for this rare syndrome, along with its neurological differential diagnoses.

METHODS

Medical records of 788 patients undergoing surgical decompression due to degenerative cervical spine diseases between 2005 and 2014 were assessed. Among those patients, 31 (3.9%, male to female ratio 4.8 to 1, mean age 60 years) presented with painless compressive cervical motor radiculopathy due to neuroforaminal stenosis without signs of myelopathy; long-term evaluation was available in 23 patients with 49 symptomatic foraminal stenoses. Clinical, imaging, and operative findings as well as the long-term course of paresis and quality of life were analyzed.

RESULTS

Presenting symptoms (mean duration 13.3 months) included a defining progressive flaccid radicular paresis (median grade 3/5) without any history of radiating pain (100%) and a concomitant muscular atrophy (78%); 83% of the patients were smokers and 17% patients had diabetes. Imaging revealed a predominantly anterior nerve root compression at the neuroforaminal entrance in 98% of stenoses. Thirty stenoses (11 patients) were initially decompressed via an anterior surgical approach and 19 stenoses (12 patients) via a posterior surgical approach. Overall reoperation rate due to new or recurrent stenoses was 22%, with time to reoperation shorter in smokers (p = 0.033). Independently of the surgical procedure chosen, long-term follow-up (mean 3.9 years) revealed a stable or improved paresis in 87% of the patients (median grade 4/5) and an excellent general performance and quality of life.

CONCLUSIONS

Painless cervical motor radiculopathy predominantly occurs due to focal compression of the anterior nerve root at the neuroforaminal entrance. Surgical decompression is effective in stabilizing or improving motor function with a resulting favorable long-term outcome.