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A new way to detect myelopathy?

Edited by B. Davies


WHO: Researchers at the University of Southern California have conducted some exciting new myelopathy research
WHAT: The researchers have developed and validated a screening test for myelopathy

WHY: In medicine there are 2 types of tests: screening tests and diagnostic tests. Screening tests tend to be quick, safe, require few resources and are appropriate to use on a very large scale, for example all people at risk of having a particular medical condition who may not have any symptoms Diagnostic tests tend to be more complicated, more expensive, most time-intensive and have great risks for patients. Screening tests are ideal for picking up disease in people without any symptoms to catch things early. People who have positive test results are then referred on for further diagnostic testing to confirm whether they have the particular medical condition. Diagnostic screening then, is used in people who we have a high suspicion might have a disease, either because they have a positive screening test of because they have symptoms.

Getting back to myelopathy, there are currently very effective diagnostic tests, based on a combination of a doctor’s history taking, physical examination and an MRI scan. However, there are currently no screening tests for myelopathy. Putting this in the context of the subtle symptoms of myelopathy (Davies et al., 2018), the fact that myelopathy is currently being diagnosed too slowly (Behrbalk et al., 2013), and the duration of symptoms before diagnosis are thought to be the most important factor determining how well patients get on in the long-term after surgery (Ebersold et al., 1995), a myelopathy screening test sounds a brilliant idea!  

Developing and testing such a screening test is exactly what the researchers have done!

HOW: The researchers developed a 4-question test based upon previous research and their experience of the most common DCM symptoms. The test involves asking the patient each of the four questions. The four questions are:

1. Have you noticed that you are dropping things or that your hands feel clumsy?

2. Have you felt more off-balance or unsteady on your feet? 

3. Do you feel weakness in one or both of your arms or hands?

4. Do you feel numbness or tingling in one or both of your arms or hands?

The researchers called the test the DOWN test (see words in bold).  If the patient answered yes to a question this was called a positive answer and if they answer no this was called a negative answer.

The researchers then asked the questions to 46 myelopathy patients and 46 patients who did not have myelopathy. This study design is called a case-control study.

FINDINGS

The researchers experimented trying different combinations of how many responses to the DOWN questionnaire had to be positive to define a positive overall test result. There are various measures that can be used for this. Bear in mind that with any test there is always the risk that the result might be positive because a patient has another medical condition, or due to chance, rather than the medical condition that the researchers are interested in. Therefore, researchers use a combination of statistical measurers to check how good a test is. One measure is called sensitivity, and this tells researchers how good a test is at identifying people with a particular medical condition, for example myelopathy. Another measure is specificity, which tells researchers how likely a positive result is to be because of myelopathy rather than being positive because of another medical condition or due to chance. 

So, a test might be very sensitive because it is positive for nearly all myelopathy patients but at the same time not be very specific because it is also positive for many patients with other medical conditions. This would mean that we could be reasonably sure that someone doesn’t have myelopathy if they have a negative test but if they have a positive test, we cannot be sure whether they have myelopathy or another medical condition, or no condition at all. 

Ultimately there is a trade-off between sensitivity and specificity – the better you make a test at identifying all cases of a particular medical condition (increasing the sensitivity) the better it becomes at identifying people with other medical conditions (decreasing the specificity). High sensitivity is desirable in a screening test to act like a net to catch as many patients as possible who have myelopathy. We can then use other tests to rule out those who do not have it later. However, this approach is not without problems, especially as it will inevitably involve a lot of unnecessary anxiety for patients with positive screening tests who later turn out not to have the condition after all. 

In the end, the researchers recommended using cut-off of 3 positive answers to define an overall positive test result, meaning a patient is likely to have myelopathy. 

Researchers found that patients with myelopathy had higher DOWN scores than those without myelopathy and that patients with 3 or 4 positive responses were significantly more likely to have myelopathy. They found that 91% of patients who had 3 positive questions had myelopathy. They showed that the DOWN screening test is accurate identifying patients with myelopathy. 

SO WHAT?: Myelopathy is very difficult to diagnose early. Most patients present with subtle symptoms to general practitioners, who have very broad medical knowledge but do not have the same expertise in myelopathy as spinal surgeons. The development of the DOWN screening test has great promise to screen patients, facilitate earlier diagnosis, and reduce suffering for patients. Increasing age is a risk factor for myelopathy, which is predicted to become commoner with ageing population. This makes all the more need for a test like the DOWN test.

NEXT STEPS: the current study was conducted on a relatively small number of patients who were part of a very well-defined group attending a specialist spinal service. Given that the DOWN test will be used mainly by general practitioners on the general population, a follow up study is needed to check the results in a larger and more diverse group of patients. It may also be worth studying whether using different questions can improve the test.

Picture of a net

References

Behrbalk, E., Salame, K., Regev, G.J., Keynan, O., Boszczyk, B., and Lidar, Z. (2013). Delayed diagnosis of cervical spondylotic myelopathy by primary care physicians. Neurosurg. Focus 35, E1.
Davies, B.M., Mowforth, O.D., Smith, E.K., and Kotter, M.R. (2018). Degenerative cervical myelopathy. BMJ 360, k186.
Ebersold, M.J., Pare, M.C., and Quast, L.M. (1995). Surgical treatment for cervical spondylitic myelopathy. J. Neurosurg. 82, 745–751.

In search of Myelopathy man

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By Delphine Houlton 
Our Facebook Myelopathy Support group, founded by Iwan Sadler, now has more than 1,000 members worldwide.
A great success story which is set to grow as awareness of Degenerative Cervical Myelopathy (DCM) increases. 
There is little doubt that social media is revolutionizing health care. A US study by Pricewaterhouse Cooper in 2012 showed that one third of US consumers use social space as a natural habitat for health discussions. Meanwhile a 2010 report by the Pew Internet and American Life Project showed one half of e-patients living with chronic diseases take advantage of user generated information.

Using this research and more, Pius Boachie writing for http://www.adweek.com/digital/ demonstrates the importance of Facebook groups for people with health issues sharing experiences, offering support and raising awareness and funds.
Social media has also given patients opportunities to vent their frustrations and anger as well as following up issues keeping healthcare providers on their toes.
But it is not just of benefit to the patients. Pius Boachie claims 88% of doctors use social media to research pharmaceutical, biotech and medical devices, and 60% of doctors say social media improves the quality of care delivered to patients.
However, at Myelopathy Support we are facing a challenge and one that not only Iwan has noticed. Our Facebook group has attracted many more women than men. In fact, 76.7% of Myelopathy Support members are women and just 23.2% men!
The specialists tell us that DCM does not discriminate between the sexes, so what is going on?
According to research by Statista, women have been leading the way on the major social media platforms, such as Facebook, for a long time but the gap is narrowing. Now the USA has 230 million Facebook users of which 52% are women and 48% are men. 
So, men are aware of Facebook and interacting but there is a possibility they are using it differently. At least this is an argument presented in www.socialmediatoday.com in 2016.
The authors say research reveals men are more likely to use social media to seek information or new relationships while women use platforms such as Facebook to connect with people and nurture existing relationships. 
Women are more likely to share personal issues while men prefer more abstract topics. On a more negative note, men were much more commonly trolling on social media or engaging in aggressive and even abusive language. In conclusion, they accept that men and women communicate differently.
This sort of argument can be compelling along the lines of the popular Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus theses. I’m not a huge fan not least because I favour nurture over nature and see most styles of communications as culturally constructed with culture very clearly an ongoing process – a verb and not a noun.
Irrespective of my preferences, we do face the challenge of attracting more men to join and to benefit from the information, support and expertise available at Myelopathy Support on Facebook.
Should we be doing more on YouTube (54% male users) who spend, on average, twice as much time as women do on the site per week? Should we signpost the vast amount of detailed information available at Myelopathy Support more clearly? Should we run an invite-a-man initiative or offer a prize to the 500th man to sign up?
All suggestions gratefully received!  Email: info@myelopathy.org



Investigating exercise after anterior cervical discectomy: what should we advise?

My name is Dr Teena Fernandez. I am a GP in North Wales currently undertaking research as part of my Masters in Sports and Exercise Medicine at Nottingham University. During my studies my husband sustained a cervical spine injury resulting in a 2 level anterior cervical discectomy and fusion and we found little advice or evidence on returning to sport following such surgery.

Can you help researchers from the University of Nottingham?


We did not know if he could go dog walking, do martial arts or do manual labour for 2 hours a day? I subsequently undertook research which only identified expert opinion on returning to sport. I have now (with the help of a neurosurgery consultant) decided to find out how people return to sport following 2 level anterior cervical discectomy and fusion.

I plan to undertake a qualitative project interviewing approximately 8-16 participants to find out whether they have returned to at least 2 hours of exercise a day following the surgery. I would like to know whether they developed problems such as neck pain or pain or loss of function of the arms and legs with exercise.

Being a GP, I hope I can interpret the interviews and help people who require advice on getting fit after surgery. 

Please have a look at my advert and get in touch if you would like to be involved.

Dr Teena Fernandez
MBBS MRCGP DFFP DRCOG BMEDSCI PGCE

Why does this matter? A word from the director

The role of exercise after surgery in CSM is largely unexplored.  However there is much to suggest that it can enhance recovery; indeed this is well demonstrated in animal studies of spinal cord injury, underpins the basis for spinal cord injury rehabilitation centres and is starting to be evidence based in traumatic spinal cord injury.  So at Myelopathy.org, we are pleased to support this research study.   It should be noted, that this study is not just for CSM and looks in particular at higher performance athletes (exercising more than 2 hours per day), but no doubt this will have some relevance and we look forward to seeing the results.    Ben Davies, Director Myelopathy.org  

Worried about participating in research?

Myelopathy.org ensures all affiliated research meets UK Research Standards.  A useful video has been prepared by  Connected Health Cities and The Farr Institute to provide an overview of how health research is conducted and overseen in the UK, including how your data is looked after and used.  If you have any further questions or concerns, please get in touch. 

Headaches more common in CSM

​Cervical spondylosis, more than a pain in the neck?

by J.Hamilton

For some migraines is just another word for headache, but in medicine it refers to a specific type of headache characterised by severe head pain that can last from 2-72 hours, are a common disorder and can be incapacitating to people who suffer them. Migraines are common, with estimates suggesting up to one billion people are affected worldwide. Various triggers may cause migraines, causing a sequence of events that lead to head pain. It has been suggested that cervical spondylosis, the degeneration of the bones of the neck, may initiate migraines, but little research has been done on the topic.

With this in mind, a group at the China Medical University wanted to determine if there was an association between cervical spondylosis and the likelihood of suffering from migraines. 

​How was it done?

​The group used a health insurance research database in Taiwan.  From this database,  a group patients with and without cervical spondylosis were selected.  The group without spondylosis were matched, such that they had similarly ages, genders and presence of other illnesses such as diabetes.  Over the next 10 years, between 2000-2010, the patients who developed migraine were noted. At the end of the study, the group looked at the relative risk of getting migraines and compared them between the groups.

Do you suffer from headaches or pain and have CSM?
Researchers from the University of Cambridge what to hear about your experience


​What were the results? 

​The group of Spondylosis sufferers numbered at 27,000, compared to 111,000 without spondylosis. When they looked at the rate of people acquiring migraines each year, they found that out of those with Spondylosis, 5.16 people out of 1000 per year acquired migraine, compared to 2.09 per 1000 people per year in people without spondylosis. When they looked at the risk of getting migraine, using a statistical method known as “hazard ratios”, which compares the relative risk of getting a migraine between two groups, it was found that comparing patients with and without spondylosis patients gave a risk of 2.03. This means that people with Spondylosis are twice as likely to develop migraines as those without. When looking at the data more closely, the researchers found that this risk was further increased in patients with myelopathy and spondylosis as opposed to spondylosis patients with no myelopathy.  As expected, they also found that women and younger individuals were more likely to develop migraines, a well described association.

​How could this happen?

​Although headache has not been considered a ‘classical’ feature of neck disorders, it has been proposed for many decades that neck disorders can cause headaches.  This led to the creation of a condition called ‘Cervicogenic’ Headache (literally ‘neck generated headache’).  For some professionals this remains a controversial condition, as how a neck condition can cause a headache remains unclear.  The proposed mechanism is based on something called ‘sensitization’, a well described pain process by which the regular perception of pain can alter the ‘wiring’ of the brain and spinal cord, make them more sensitive: so what once felt like a tickle, could become more like a stab.  For Cervciogenic headaches, the theory is the neck pain from spondylosis is the regular pain, and because the pain pathways from the neck are shared with some of those of the head, these wires can cross and lead to headaches.  This has previously been discussed by Dr Lavin, Neurologist for Myelopathy.org, including an alternative theory related to altered blood flow.  

​What does this mean for Myelopathy sufferers? 

​This study is part of a number of recent articles helping to shine the spotlight on headaches and CSM.  Whilst it cannot show exactly why it happens, the association is becoming harder to ignore and makes it less likely to be simply a coincidence.    Hopefully these studies will help to raise the profile of headaches in CSM, to trigger the research necessary to further understanding and develop treatments – watch this space!
 
In the meantime, some small things that can minimize your risk of migraine include: remain well hydrated, reducing your caffeine intake (although some people find caffeine helpful), as well as ensuring a regular sleeping habit. 

Addressing recent concerns about Myelopathy.org and affiliated surveys

A message from the director

Concerns have recently been raised with regards the legitimacy of the Health Surveys hosted by Myelopathy.org and I would like to address these directly.
 
As you are only too aware, Myelopathy is a condition which faces a number of significant challenges including lifelong disability, widespread misunderstanding and under-recognition, and a lack of clear information or support.   Myelopathy.org was founded to address these issues and become a rallying point for change. 
 
We see research as an important part of delivering change and support projects that can advance our understanding.  As the largest ever Myelopathy community, your shared experiences have a lot to offer researchers, and therefore health surveys have been a prominent part of our research arm.  So far, more than 2000 people have shared their experiences, making these some of the largest ever studies in Myelopathy.  That data is still being processed, and we look forward to seeing the results soon, but this in itself is a testament to what we can achieve together.
 
As an organisation we recognise the power of this community and are committed to its responsible management.  In this respect, all research associations and projects have been and are expected to meet our ethical standards.  This includes adhering to our code of conduct, providing appropriate regulatory approval and practicing safe management of personal data.  All proposed surveys are first piloted and approved internally.
 
Looking through our research section today, I can see that this oversight is not as explicit as it should be, and we will be introducing clearer documentation to correct this.
 
We are a very young organisation, developing and learning as we go along but in a short time we have made great in roads; I remember when we first launched, canine myelopathy was the prominent feature of google search results, but now our myelopathy has come to the forefront.    
 
There is still a long way to go, but it will be together that we can drive change and not as individuals.  The internet has provided a platform for us to come together, but we must remember that it can also have the potential to divide us: both as an organisation and as individual members we all must act responsibly.  In that regard, if you feel any of our actions or the actions of our members questionable, please get in touch directly.
 
Thank you for your ongoing support.
 
 
Benjamin Davies
Director Myelopathy.org  

Ageing increases impact of spinal cord compression

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FEM (Finite Element Method) analyses the impact of mechanical loads e.g. ‘stress’. It was principally used in engineering (for example aerospace), but increasingly also medical research

At the moment, we do not have medical investigations which are able to represent accurately the significance of spinal cord injury.  For example, you could have two patients with exactly the same MRI changes, one who is without symptoms and the other who is severely affected. 

This is a major challenge for researchers, with many exploring new tools to provide better assessment methods

However, amongst this confusion, age seems to be important as the number of people with symptomatic cord compression increases with age.  Moreover, some have shown that age can affect response to surgery.  

A group from Japan have been experimenting using a preclinical (animal) model, to investigate how spinal cords of different ages react to the same compression force.  Using a technique called Finite Element Method, more typically used in engineering, they have shown that in an older spinal cord the same amount of compression causes a much higher stress to the spinal cord tissue, than in a younger spinal cord.  This was the same for sudden or slow compressive forces. 

​ Of course this experiment has not been conducted on human spinal cords, but the findings are in keeping with a wider experience of aging and CSM and is a further reminder of the need for more sophisticated tools to represent the extent of spinal cord injury in CSM.  

Reference

1. Okazaki et al. Age‐related changes of the spinal cord: A biomechanical studyExperimental and Therapeutic Medicine 2018

We welcome Frank Dutton to our fundraising  team

PictureFrank Dutton Charity Ambassador

We are very happy to welcome Frank Dutton to our team,Frank was diagnosed with cervical myelopathy in  2015 and is currently leading our fundraising efforts as  a Charity Ambassador.If you have any fundraising ideas or want to raise money for our cause you can email Frank directly at the bottom of the page.

​Frank’s Background Story 
My whole life was driven by sport, mainly encouraged by my Granddad, and I played both football and Ice-hockey at an early age, the latter for a living. A severe knee injury forced me to hang my boots up but I continued being involved in sport only this time I took on the role of a goalkeeping coach in football, working with all age groups in both Milton Keynes and Bedford. An innocuous dive for a ball during a coaching session on the 27th September 2008 was to change my life drastically. I landed awkwardly on my arm and the elbow dug into my lower abdomen. A few hours later I was rushed into A&E and despite breaking bones and tearing ligaments during my career this was at a level I had never truly experienced before.

Roughly a year and half later I was referred to Addenbrookes hospital pain management team, and they diagnosed I had torn a stomach muscle, for the second time in my life, but had also damaged nerve endings and I was now suffering from Chronic Pain Syndrome and due to the damage done to my nerve endings, I would probably suffer from that for the rest of my life. To go from being so physically active to not being able to move without causing any pain was very hard to accept and then having to endure things such as having to be pushed around in a wheelchair where I had become so weak was tough and mentally I have constantly struggled to come to terms with it. Thankfully my partner Lucy has helped me to learn to deal with these emotions and in 2010 she encouraged me to enrol on an Access Course at Bedford College with a view to going to University and begin training as a Primary School Teacher. For someone who had left school with no qualifications to speak of, and to go to college was really scary but I enjoyed my time there, and I even wrote an article for the college paper about being a mature student struggling with a disability. I passed the course with merits and distinctions and gained a triple distinction for my final dissertation. I was speechless at how well things had gone and I was even more amazed when the University of Bedfordshire accepted me onto their Early Years Education, 3 year BA Hons degree. Whilst at Uni I knew the typical student nightlife was never going to be an option however I wanted to get involved as much as I could and so I became a Course Rep, a PAL leader during my 2nd and 3rd years, which involved helping first year students negotiate their first two terms on campus, and I also volunteered as a Student Ambassador, which involved helping out on Open Days showing prospective students around the campus and giving talks both on campus and in local colleges and schools about my experiences of being a student as well. This all helped me to gain confidence in myself and I found myself being asked to become a mentor to disabled students who were finding it difficult to adjust to university life. As I had done at college, I also found myself writing an article for the university magazine about how I’d gone from playing hockey to being a student wanting to work with children. My health continued to make things difficult but the university were superb and with an added year I eventually graduated in the July of 2015. Despite the issues I had endured, I enrolled onto the PGCE course to gain my teachers qualification. My health unfortunately took a turn for the worse, and I began to have constant tingling in my left arm and I had started to pass out with an alarming frequency.

Eventually I had to accept things were not getting better and I withdrew from the course on the 17th November which was one of the lowest points in my life. In January 2016 I applied for a job at the university working with the Dean of Student Experience and was offered the job on a 6 month contract. The role meant talking to students and finding out what issues they had experienced as well as contacting other universities to see what things they were initiating to get students involved more. During my time in this role I was instrumental in the starting of a student society called PAMMS, which was for parents and mature students, a student group I felt were regularly missed during student life and events. I was still passing out regularly and in late May 2016 that problem eventually caught up with me. I was in the garden playing with my dogs when I passed out, and upon coming round I was surrounded by broken wood and a concerned dog licking my face, it became clear I had gone through a small garden table and had badly bruised my left arm. A trip to A&E showed I hadn’t broken any bones but my arm was still extremely sore and had swollen quite alarmingly. The arm continued to swell and a few days later the whole forearm was black with bruising and was so painful I couldn’t bear anything touching my arm, leading to another trip up to A&E. A succession of specialists and nurses took it in turns to look at my arm and I was eventually taken to a ward before having surgery to repair the Compartment Syndrome which I was now suffering from. A CT and an MRI scan back in February of 2016 had already shown I had issues with 5 discs in my neck and that these were pressing on my spinal cord. In the August 2016 after seeing the neurology department at Cambridge hospital I had an ACDF to repair my C4/5 discs, however the surgeon stated I would need further surgery to repair the other levels. Another knock to my left hand caused my arm to swell again, and another trip to A&E led to me being rushed to surgery in late November 2016 to repair a second Compartment Syndrome, this time on the inner half of my left arm. I have been left with two 7* inch long scars on my left arm, and I was still continuing to pass out on a regular basis, and a further MRI scan in March of 2017 showed the discs in the neck had got worse and I needed major surgery to repair things. Lucy and I got married in late July and enjoyed a superb Honeymoon in Wales later on in September. My surgery was scheduled for 11th December and unfortunately was postponed three times, however, I reported to Addenbrookes on the 24th January 2018 for surgery the day after.


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​The surgery:
My surgery was to be a posterior fusion from C2-T1 with a laminectomy of C3/4/5. Due to the issues with the arm I had been diagnosed with an Acquired Severe Bleeding Disorder and thus needed platelets and other blood cultures to try to ensure there were no complications during the surgery. Trust me to make it a problem as an issue with controlling the bleeding along with the intricate metal work being inserted into my neck meant I was in theatre for just over 8 hours before being taken to critical care to begin the recovery.


Post surgery:

I woke up and to be honest for the first 36 hours I felt pretty good, I think the copious amounts of Ketamine and morphine being pumped into my body may have had something to do with it. Lucy came to visit the day after surgery and couldn’t believe how coherent I was and in how little pain I appeared to be, this would definitely not be the case the day after, once I had been transferred to a Neuro ward and the Ketamine had worn off. I felt like I had been hit by a train and any movement sent fresh waves down my neck and back, and I couldn’t believe how uncomfortable the neck brace was either, even a morphine pump struggled to keep up with the need for pain relief as my body tried to cope with what had just happened. Over the next two weeks I gradually recovered and was allowed home, with the knowledge I had to keep the brace on for 24 hours a day and I would be seen in around 3 months time. The recovery process at home was hampered by an issue with sciatica which prevented me from laying in a reclined position in my bed forcing me to spend the first three months after the surgery sleeping on my sofa. This was really difficult to cope with but Lucy kept me going and I made sure the sympathy mode was kept up with wine gums and jelly babies being to the fore of my food intake. Lucy was able to take me out for a coffee on the odd occasion and my pain levels slowly reduced although even now 6 months down the line I am still having issues with the pain in the surgery site as the muscles begin to knit back together. My Chronic Pain has obviously not helped and has at times left me reaching for the oramorph as the pain relief I am already on had not controlled things. I have good and bad days and occasionally I have a very bad day which leaves me barely able to move. On a plus side I am no longer passing out 3-4 times a day, which when you think about it, I have been passing out for nearly 18 months, so at a best guess, I’ve zonked out over a 1,000 times.
I am now well on the road to recovery and despite still having issues with my shoulders and trying to get used to having a limited range of movement in my neck, having the surgery was worth it and indeed was necessary. My surgery was for prevention rather than cure and I know that whilst I wont ever score the winning goal in a Stanley Cup Final, I’m now looking forward to the future with confidence and this role is the perfect opportunity for me to continue with my recovery and make the most of the superb work done by my surgeon Dr Mark Kotter. It was Mark that explained myelopathy to me before I had my surgery and told me about the Facebook support group which I subsequently joined and that has been such a great support to myself and my wife. It has also helped me understand my condition more with the information available and accounts from others who suffer this tough condition.  When the group got the great news it was becoming a charity I really felt I wanted to be involved and to help spread he awareness of this condition and to raise funds. After speaking to the team I have been given the great opportunity to become the charity Ambassador for Myelopathy.org and hope that I can help to spread the word and begin to help people to understand the condition and thus give support to both sufferers and their loved ones. 


    If you want to raise money for myelopathy.org please enter your details below

Can a new MRI technique predict how you respond to surgery?

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By Timothy Boerger 
Edited by Benjamin Davies

Research Summary on MRI Methods for Predicting Functional Recovery from Surgery in Patients with Cervical Myelopathy.
Rao A et al., Diffusion Tensor Imaging in a Large Longitudinal Series of Patients With Cervical Spondylotic Myelopathy Correlated With Long-Term Functional Outcome. Neurosurgery. Epub ahead of print Feb 23, 2018
Reason for the study
Currently, the assessment of the impact of cervical myelopathy is based largely on patient reported symptoms and commonly quantified using an assessment scale called the mJOA. Patient reported symptoms are very important to take into account when discussing disease severity and function, but imaging measures which explain symptoms are also helpful. Currently there has been limited success in developing imaging measures which explain symptoms and, perhaps more importantly, predict future symptoms and potential recovery following surgery. This last part will be especially important for patients and surgeons determining who will benefit from surgery. 

This study examined a different magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique than normal, called diffusion tensor imaging. This technique quantifies how water naturally flows (diffuses). The specific measure they chose (fractional anisotropy) measures the degree to which water flows in a single direction on a scale of 0 to 1 with values closer to 1 indicating diffusion more strongly in 1 direction. In axons of the spinal cord, for example, it would be expected that water would flow consistently along the path of axons rather than perpendicular to the axons. If a group had a worse score, however, it might indicate that they had damage to the neurons allowing water to move more freely. So, the purpose of this study to use fractional anisotropy as a measure of integrity of neurons in the spinal cord and see if this correlated with function pre-surgically and change in function following surgery.

Methods
​This study enrolled patients who were diagnosed with cervical myelopathy over a 5 year period (age range 33 – 81, 18 male, 26 female) and followed these patients for 2 years following surgery. They took their MRI scans and determined mJOA score pre-operatively. For this study they focused their imaging analysis at the spinal level with the greatest compression of the spinal cord. For this analysis they included the whole cord except for the border around the cord because the data they could gain from this area might be incorrect due to the surrounding cerebrospinal fluid. They then compared the MRI scans (fractional anisotropy) and mJOA pre-operatively, and 6-, 12-, and 24-months after surgery. They also compared fractional anisotropy values to those from a group of healthy control participants. 

Results
As expected fractional anisotropy (the MRI measure of neuron integrity) was lower in patients with cervical myelopathy than controls.  It was also associated with the severity of myelopathy before surgery, as assessed by the mJOA (a measure of patient function). 
Also, fractional anisotropy inversely predicted change in mJOA score at 12 months, but was less strongly predictive of change in mJOA at 6 and 24 months. Baseline mJOA also was inversely predictive of change in mJOA at 12 months. This means that in this study, those participants with lower fractional anisotropy (neural integrity) or mJOA (function) scores pre-operatively improved the most following surgery.

Why is this important?
At present, we are unable to predict accurately the response to surgery, and therefore markers which help this will be useful for doctors and patients.  Whilst fractional anisotropy, has been investigated before previous studies using this technique were less successful in drawing a relationship with function. This may be due to improving the methods of collecting and analyzing the MRI data. 
The identified relationship between baseline mJOA and change in mJOA with surgery are therefore promising, but require further research to understand the meaning for patients; for example it is recognized that patients with greater disability typically do improve more as measured by the mJOA, but that does not mean that they achieve a better functional outcome.The mJOA is not a linear scale, where each point gain is equally as important as the next.  
We look forward to watching our understanding of Fractional Anisotropy improve and if it can be of benefit to doctors and patients.


Spinal Cord Swelling: What is it?  Does it matter?

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By B.Samara 
Swelling is a common reaction of your body to any form of injury; remember the last time you banged your finger, or perhaps twisted your ankle?  So unsurprisingly, it can happen to the spinal cord and has been reported in patients with CSM.  However, it is not present in all patients and its significance is not certain.  In addition to this, some studies have now described that the spinal cord can swell after surgery.  The reason for this is unclear and equally what it means for patients is not clear. 
 

On basic MRI imaging, swelling is not that easy to detect; a doctor may look for a slight enlargement of the spinal cord or some signal change.  An alternative method is to inject a ‘contrast agent’ into the patient during the scan.  This is a special form of dye which highlights certain processes, and can be a indicator of swelling amongst other things.  We call this ‘highlighting’ enhancement.  

On this basis, a group from Japan have been looking at spinal cord swelling using contrast and what it means for patients. 

What did the study measure?​
The team from Japan performed ‘contrast MRI’ scans on patients with CSM due to undergo and operation, before and after their surgery.  They then compared what happened to patients who had enhancement and those that did not have enhancement. 

What were the results?
In the study they found that those with preoperative enhancement were more likely to have developed swelling at 1 month after the operation and the swelling was more likely to persist until 1 year post operation. Those who developed swelling had poorer outcomes as assed by a scoring system called the JOA that looks at movement skills as well as sensory loss (problems with feeling). 
What does this mean for those affected?
This sort of MRI imaging is not normally performed during the work up for CSM, but the potential to offer additional information into the severity of the disease and how patients are likely to respond to surgery would be helpful to doctors and sufferers alike. 
It is worth noting that the injection of dye can be harmful to some people, although this is uncommon. 

Therefore, for this technique to be adopted, healthcare providers are likely to need further information, such as:

  1. How does this change the management of patients?  This study only looked at patients who were due to undergo an operation anyway, is spinal cord swelling present in other forms of CSM?  Can it help decide when to perform an operation?

Of course a number of additional MRI techniques are being developed, and it is possible that the information that might be provided by this method, is superseded. 

References
Ozawa et al. Spinal Cord Swelling After Surgery in Cervical Spondylotic Myelopathy: Relationship With Intramedullary Gd-DTPA Enhancement on MRI. Clin Spine Surg. 2018 May 31. doi: 10.1097/BSD.0000000000000664
Cho et al.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3229731/


Living with long term conditions like myelopathy

 BY Dr Amalia Gasson
​   
Amalia has been working in adult mental health in the NHS for eight years, currently working in a community mental health rehabilitation team.  She is experienced in working therapeutically with clients with a wide range of difficulties, with a focus on anxiety, depression, relationship difficulties and serious mental health difficulties. She also has an interest in chronic pain and physical health conditions and has completed research into chronic fatigue syndrome. 

Life is stressful. Every day there are lots of events that will fill up our “stress buckets” to varying levels…the computer stops working, we drop a cup, there’s a queue in the shop.
If we have had a bad night’s sleep our stress bucket is already part full before we get out of bed.
Living with long term health conditions means we may have buckets almost overflowing to start the day with and then one “small” stress makes that bucket overflow and everything feels impossible to cope with.

Finding ways to manage our stress levels reduces those times of feeling overwhelmed. It can also have a positive impact on our physical health. There are many very good online resources with tips and techniques that you may find helpful.

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Dr Amalia Gasson: Clinical Psychologist

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Managing energy levels
With any health condition, there is a significant impact on our energy levels. Generally, we tend to go through life doing the most we can in the shortest time. Then our health can stop us in our tracks.
Learning to manage our energy so it feels less of a rollercoaster and more predictable can be tricky. This site has a whole range of self help resources. This link is specifically to the cycles we get into which can make managing energy difficult, and ways to make changes:

https://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/chronicfp.htm

Spoon Theory is another approach to managing energy
https://butyoudontlooksick.com/articles/written-by-christine/the-spoon-theory/


Pain

Managing pain levels, like fatigue, links to the ideas of pacing and spoon theory. There are also specific resources about pain such as:
http://www.moodjuice.scot.nhs.uk/ChronicPain.asp

The pain toolkit is created by someone who experiences chronic pain. There are videos on this site and also a pdf download: https://www.paintoolkit.org/tools

The British Pain Society also has helpful information: https://www.britishpainsociety.org/

Mindfulness
It feels like you can’t go anywhere nowadays without hearing someone talking about mindfulness. This is an approach developed from eastern Buddhist meditation techniques and applied to pain management. It was found to be so helpful it has spread throughout healthcare as a way of managing stress.
At its core is a very simple idea, which is surprisingly difficult to put into practice: “Be in the present moment.”

Most of the time we are caught up in thoughts or regrets about the past, or worries about the future, and rarely notice the present. 

​Have you ever driven somewhere, arriving without remembering the journey? Have you ever been reading a book without taking it in? Looking at your watch without actually seeing the time? These are all examples of being “mindless” which is the opposite of being mindful. 

There are some good links about mindfulness here, and several downloads and resources to listen to:
https://www.mindful.org/what-is-mindfulness/
https://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/mindfulness.htm

There are many mindfulness books available. In my work I tend to use Mindfulness for Dummies, by Shamash Alidina, as it is so practical.

One very simple mindfulness practice is to go through all your senses, focusing on each one in turn. By doing this you are totally absorbing yourself in the present, even if only very briefly. 

I’m also a fan of the mindful eating idea, often done with a raisin but this one uses chocolate
https://www.jmu.edu/counselingctr/files/Mindful%20eating.pdf 

A great article from Brain & Life (American academy of neurology) on meditation called Inner peace.
Brain & Life 

We now have our very own INSIGHT TIMER group  for Cervical Myelopathy you can join by entering your details in the form belowCervical Myelopathy you can join by entering your details in the form below


Do you want to join our very own insight timer meditation group? if so please fill in your details below

Compassion
How kind are you to yourself?
When you are having a tough day, do you congratulate yourself on what you manage despite that, or do you have a go at yourself for struggling?

As humans we are generally pretty rubbish at being kind to ourselves. An approach called compassion focused therapy is based on how the human brain evolved and explains why we are so tough on ourselves. 

Paul Gilbert, who developed this approach, believes in sharing all the resources and information:
https://compassionatemind.co.uk/

A summary of compassion focused therapy ideas can be found at :
https://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/compassion.htm
There are some nice worksheets on becoming aware of your levels of criticism and compassion practices under therapist resources at: https://www.actwithcompassion.com/therapist_resources

The centre for clinical interventions is an Australian site with excellent self help workbooks for a whole range of issues including building compassion, managing panic, dealing with distress and overcoming perfectionism (a character trait many of us have but which makes pacing energy nigh on impossible so definitely worth a quick look): http://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/resources/consumers.cfm
Most have simple questions in the first module to help you assess whether this is a specific area that might be helpful for you to explore further.

Finally, the great thing about the internet is just how many resources there are.
You may have come across many that you could share on a forum like this to help others. 

There are also great Apps like Headspace which talk you through mindfulness exercises.
This is a list of Apps recommended by the NHS: https://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/links2.htm

Here is a list here of mindfulness apps:
 https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/top-meditation-iphone-android-apps

If you feel you want further support for your mental health and ways of managing stress, a good first point of contact is your GP who can refer on to primary care therapy. 
There are many parts of the UK where you can also refer yourself – the NHS website has a service finder:

https://www.nhs.uk/Service-Search/Psychological-therapies-(IAPT)/LocationSearch/10008

Mind often offer free courses and support: https://www.mind.org.uk/
The Samaritans have useful information on their site https://www.samaritans.org/, have the phone number 116123 and you can email jo@samaritans.org (they aim to respond to email within 24 hours).

In crisis 
If you feel you are in crisis with your mental health and you are
having – suicidal thoughts and feelings; or thoughts about harming yourself or someone else; or you have seriously hurt yourself…
You can go to any hospital A&E department and ask for help (if you need to, call  999  and ask for an ambulance). There are specialist mental health liaison teams in hospitals who will see you quickly and be able to offer the most appropriate support