Although evaluating tissue elasticity has various clinical applications, spinal cord elasticity (SCE) in humans has never been well documented. In this study, the authors aimed to evaluate the impact of compression on human SCE in vivo.
The authors prospectively assessed SCE using intraoperative shear wave elastography (SWE). All consecutive patients undergoing spinal cord (SC) decompression (laminectomy or corpectomy) between June 2018 and June 2019 were included. After intraoperative exposure of the patient’s dura mater, at least three SWE measurements of the SC and its coverings were performed. Intraoperative neurological monitoring in the form of motor and somatosensory evoked potentials was utilized. Cases were divided into two groups based on the state of SC compression following bone removal (laminectomy or corpectomy): patients with adequate decompression (the decompressed SC group [DCG]) following bone removal and patients with remining compression, e.g., compressing tumor or instability (the compressed SC group [COG]).
A total of 25 patients were included (8 females and 17 males) with a mean age of 48.28 ± 21.47 years. Most cases were degenerative diseases (10 cases) followed by tumors (6 cases), and the compression was observed at cervical (n = 14), thoracic (n = 9), and conus medullaris (n = 2) levels. The COG (6 cases) expressed significantly higher elasticity values, i.e., greater stiffness (median 93.84, IQR 75.27–121.75 kPa) than the decompressed SC in DCG (median 9.35, IQR 6.95–11.22 kPa, p < 0.001). Similarly, the compressed dura mater in the COG was significantly stiffer (mean ± SD 121.83 ± 70.63 kPa) than that in the DCG (29.78 ± 18.31 kPa, p = 0.042). Following SC decompression in COG, SCE values were significantly reduced (p = 0.006; adjusted for multiple comparisons). Intraoperative monitoring demonstrated no worsening from the baseline.
The current study is to the authors’ knowledge the first to quantitatively demonstrate increased stiffness (i.e., elasticity value) of the human SC and dura mater in response to external compression in vivo. It appears that SCE is a dynamic phenomenon and is reduced following decompression. Moreover, the evaluation of human SCE using the SWE technique is feasible and safe. Information from future studies aiming to further define SCE could be valuable in the early and accurate diagnosis of the compressed SC.