Cervical spondylotic myelopathy (CSM) is the primary cause of adult spinal cord dysfunction. Diminished hand strength and reduced dexterity associated with CSM contribute to disability. Here, the authors investigated the impact of CSM severity on hand function using quantitative testing and evaluated the response to surgical intervention.
Thirty-three patients undergoing surgical treatment of CSM were prospectively enrolled in the study. An occupational therapist conducted 3 functional hand tests: 1) palmar dynamometry to measure grip strength, 2) hydraulic pinch gauge test to measure pinch strength, and 3) 9-hole peg test (9-HPT) to evaluate upper extremity dexterity. Tests were performed preoperatively and 6–8 weeks postoperatively. Test results were expressed as 1) a percentile relative to age- and sex-stratified norms and 2) achievement of a minimum clinically important (MCI) difference. Patients were stratified into groups (mild, moderate, and severe myelopathy) based on their modified Japanese Orthopaedic Association (mJOA) score. The severity of stenosis on preoperative MRI was graded by three independent physicians using the Kang classification.
The primary presenting symptoms were neck pain (33%), numbness (21%), imbalance (12%), and upper extremity weakness (12%). Among the 33 patients, 61% (20) underwent anterior approach decompression, with a mean (SD) of 2.9 (1.5) levels treated. At baseline, patients with moderate and low mJOA scores (indicating more severe myelopathy) had lower preoperative pinch (p < 0.001) and grip (p = 0.01) strength than those with high mJOA scores/mild myelopathy. Postoperative improvement was observed in all hand function domains except pinch strength in the nondominant hand, with MCI differences at 6 weeks ranging from 33% of patients in dominant-hand strength tests to 73% of patients in nondominant-hand dexterity tests. Patients with moderate baseline mJOA scores were more likely to have MCI improvement in dominant grip strength (58.3%) than those with low mJOA scores/severe myelopathy (30%) and high mJOA scores/mild myelopathy (9%, p = 0.04). Dexterity in the dominant hand as measured by the 9-HPT ranged from < 1 in patients with cord signal change to 15.9 in patients with subarachnoid effacement only (p = 0.03).
Patients with CSM achieved significant improvement in strength and dexterity postoperatively. Baseline strength measures correlated best with the preoperative mJOA score; baseline dexterity correlated best with the severity of stenosis on MRI. The majority of patients experienced MCI improvements in dexterity. Baseline pinch strength correlated with postoperative mJOA MCI improvement, and patients with moderate baseline mJOA scores were the most likely to have improvement in dominant grip strength postoperatively.