Efficacy of intraoperative monitoring of transcranial electrical stimulation–induced motor evoked potentials and spontaneous electromyography activity to identify acute-versus delayed-onset C-5 nerve root palsy during cervical spine surgery

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Deltoid muscle weakness due to C-5 nerve root injury following cervical spine surgery is an uncommon but potentially debilitating complication. Symptoms can manifest upon emergence from anesthesia or days to weeks following surgery. There is conflicting evidence regarding the efficacy of spontaneous electromyography (spEMG) monitoring in detecting evolving C-5 nerve root compromise. By contrast, transcranial electrical stimulation–induced motor evoked potential (tceMEP) monitoring has been shown to be highly sensitive and specific in identifying impending C-5 injury. In this study the authors sought to 1) determine the frequency of immediate versus delayed-onset C-5 nerve root injury following cervical spine surgery, 2) identify risk factors associated with the development of C-5 palsies, and 3) determine whether tceMEP and spEMG neuromonitoring can help to identify acutely evolving C-5 injury as well as predict delayed-onset deltoid muscle paresis.


The authors retrospectively reviewed the neuromonitoring and surgical records of all patients who had undergone cervical spine surgery involving the C-4 and/or C-5 level in the period from 2006 to 2008. Real-time tceMEP and spEMG monitoring from the deltoid muscle was performed as part of a multimodal neuromonitoring protocol during all surgeries. Charts were reviewed to identify patients who had experienced significant changes in tceMEPs and/or episodes of neurotonic spEMG activity during surgery, as well as those who had shown new-onset deltoid weakness either immediately upon emergence from the anesthesia or in a delayed fashion.


Two hundred twenty-nine patients undergoing 235 cervical spine surgeries involving the C4–5 level served as the study cohort. The overall incidence of perioperative C-5 nerve root injury was 5.1%. The incidence was greatest (50%) in cases with dual corpectomies at the C-4 and C-5 spinal levels. All patients who emerged from anesthesia with deltoid weakness had significant and unresolved changes in tceMEPs during surgery, whereas only 1 had remarkable spEMG activity. Sensitivity and specificity of tceMEP monitoring for identifying acute-onset deltoid weakness were 100% and 99%, respectively. By contrast, sensitivity and specificity for spEMG were only 20% and 92%, respectively. Neither modality was effective in identifying patients who demonstrated delayed-onset deltoid weakness.


The risk of new-onset deltoid muscle weakness following cervical spine surgery is greatest for patients undergoing 2-level corpectomies involving C-4 and C-5. Transcranial electrical stimulation–induced MEP monitoring is a highly sensitive and specific technique for detecting C-5 radiculopathy that manifests immediately upon waking from anesthesia. While the absence of sustained spEMG activity does not rule out nerve root irritation, the presence of excessive neurotonic discharges serves both to alert the surgeon of such potentially injurious events and to prompt neuromonitoring personnel about the need for additional tceMEP testing. Delayed-onset C-5 nerve root injury cannot be predicted by intraoperative neuromonitoring via either modality.

Abbreviations used in this paper:ACD = anterior cervical decompression; EMG = electromyography; spEMG = spontaneous EMG; SSEP = somatosensory evoked potential; tceMEP = transcranial electrical stimulation–induced motor evoked potential.

Article Information

Address correspondence to: Vidya M. Bhalodia, M.A., 900 Old Marple Rd., Springfield, PA 19064. email: vidya.bhalodia@specialtycaresg.com.

Please include this information when citing this paper: published online July 26, 2013; DOI: 10.3171/2013.6.SPINE12355.

© AANS, except where prohibited by US copyright law.



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    Transcranial electrical stimulation–induced MEPs recorded from deltoid, biceps, and first dorsal interosseous muscles during C4–5 corpectomy. Responses from the deltoid and biceps muscles showed > 65% amplitude attenuation during the course of decompression, prompting a surgical alert. There was complete resolution of attenuated responses following a 15-minute surgical pause. The patient had no neurological sequelae upon emergence from the anesthesia.



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