To help with decisions regarding management of people with DCM, evidence-based international guidelines have recently been created by AO Spine and the Cervical Spine Research Society [1]. It is recommended to urgently refer anyone with DCM to a spinal specialist for a full assessment [2]. People with moderate (mJOA 12–14) or severe (mJOA ≤11) DCM will likely be offered surgery. People with mild (mJOA 15–17) DCM will be offered either surgery or a supervised trial of structured rehabilitation, with regular follow up and progression to surgery in the event of neurological deterioration or failure to improve [1].

People with asymptomatic spinal cord compression without signs or symptoms of radiculopathy will be counselled on their risk of progression and the symptoms and signs of myelopathy, but will not be offered prophylactic surgery. People with asymptomatic cord compression and evidence of radiculopathy will be offered either surgical or non-surgical intervention. Non-surgical intervention entails a supervised trial of structured rehabilitation, with progression to surgery if the person develops symptoms or signs of myelopathy [1].


The aim of surgery is to alleviate the mechanical stress on the spinal cord [1]. There are both anterior approaches, such as anterior cervical discectomy and fusion, and posterior surgical approaches, such as laminectomy. At present there is no clear evidence that one technique is superior to another [2,3]. A posterior approach is often favoured for ossification of the posterior longitudinal ligament or multilevel compression involving mostly posterior pathology, whilst an anterior approach is often favoured for restoring lordosis or for approaching anterior pathology over a limited number of segments [4]. The Cervical Spondylotic Myelopathy Surgical (CSM-S) trial, the first randomised controlled trial of anterior versus posterior surgery for DCM affecting two or more levels, found no difference in function or quality of life outcomes between these approaches [5]. This is discussed in this podcast episode.

The primary aim of surgical intervention is to halt disease progression. However, surgery has also been shown to be effective at improving neurological function, disability, quality of life and pain [6,7]. Nonetheless, recovery is frequently incomplete, and it is not possible to predict the amount or nature of recovery; hence, you should counsel people with DCM that even after surgery they are likely to be left with significant permanent disabilities [1].
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Non-Operative Management

This is an option for people with mild DCM or spinal cord compression without myelopathy [1]. Non-surgical management options include bracing, analgesia, therapeutic exercise, manual therapy, bed rest and avoidance of high-risk activities and environments [2]. Whilst there is no clear evidence of harm of structured non-operative treatment, there is little evidence supporting its overall effectiveness or guiding the use of any specific strategy [3–5]. Preoperative physiotherapy should only be advised by specialist spinal services [1]. You should not perform neck manipulation, such as cervical traction, in pre-operative DCM due to the risk of causing further damage to the spinal cord [1]. In a survey of the community (n=197), although ~50% of people with DCM had received physiotherapy, only 1 in 5 reported any benefit [6]. A high proportion of people with DCM undergoing non-surgical management will go on to need surgery in the following few years [5].
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Post-Operative Management

Despite surgical treatment, most individuals with DCM will go on to live with lifelong disabilities, including pain [1–3]. The role of post-operative therapies to enhance recovery or manage residual symptoms has not yet been researched [4] and is a recently identified research priority [5].

Once surgical treatment has been completed, healing has taken place (~12 months) and an individual’s recovery has stabilised, it is considered that the risk of manual therapies normalises to that of the general population.

Whilst there is no evidence at this stage, the community indicates that a range of different therapies may help, including hydrotherapy, massage, meditation and mindfulness.
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