Degenerative cervical myelopathy (DCM) is a prevalent condition in which spinal degeneration causes cord compression and neurological dysfunction. The spinal cord is anatomically complex and operates in conjunction with the brain, the musculoskeletal system, and numerous organs to control numerous functions, including simple
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Degenerative cervical myelopathy (DCM) is a prevalent condition in which spinal degeneration causes cord compression and neurological dysfunction. The spinal cord is anatomically complex and operates in conjunction with the brain, the musculoskeletal system, and numerous organs to control numerous functions, including simple and coordinated movement, sensation, and autonomic functions. As a result, accurate and comprehensive measurement of spinal cord function in patients with DCM and other spinal pathologies is challenging. This project aimed to summarize the neurological, functional, and quality of life (QoL) outcome measures currently in use to quantify impairment in DCM. A systematic review of the literature was performed to identify prospective studies with at least 100 DCM subjects that utilized one or more quantitative neurological, functional, or QoL outcome measures. A total of 148 studies were identified. The most commonly used instruments were subjective functional scales including the Japanese Orthopedic Association (JOA) (71 studies), modified JOA (mJOA) (66 studies), Neck Disability Index (NDI) (54 studies), and Nurick (39 studies), in addition to the QoL measure Short-Form-36 (SF-36, 52 studies). A total of 92% (320/349) of all outcome measures were questionnaires, whereas objective physical testing of neurological function (strength, gait, balance, dexterity, or sensation) made up 8% (29/349). Studies utilized an average of 2.36 outcomes measures, while 58 studies (39%) utilized only a single outcome measure. No studies were identified that specifically assessed the dorsal column sensory pathway or respiratory, bowel, or sexual function. In the past five years, there were no significant differences in the number of total, functional, or QoL outcome measures used, but physical testing of neurological function has increased (p
= 0.005). Prior to 2017, cervical spondylotic myelopathy (CSM) was the most frequently used term to describe the study population, whereas in the last five years, DCM has become the preferred terminology. In conclusion, clinical studies of DCM typically utilize limited data to characterize impairment, often relying on subjective, simplistic, and non-specific measures that do not reflect the complexity of the spinal cord. Although accurate measurement of impairment in DCM is challenging, it is necessary for early diagnosis, monitoring for deterioration, and quantifying recovery after therapeutic interventions. Clinical decision-making and future clinical studies in DCM should employ a combination of subjective and objective assessments to capture the multitude of spinal cord functions to improve clinical management and inform practice guidelines.