METHODS: A literature search was conducted on the risk of spinal cord injury in individuals with asymptomatic cord encroachment and the risk and benefit of preventive decompression surgery.
RESULTS: Three studies on the risk of spinal cord injury in this population met the inclusion criteria. All reported increased risk. However, none were prospective cohort studies or case-control studies, so the designs did not allow firm conclusions to be drawn. A number of studies and reviews of the risks and benefits of decompression surgery in patients with cervical myelopathy were found, but no studies were found that addressed surgery in asymptomatic individuals thought to be at risk. The complications of decompression surgery range from transient hoarseness to spinal cord injury, with rates ranging from 0.3% to 60%.
CONCLUSIONS: There is insufficient evidence that individuals with spondylotic spinal cord encroachment are at increased risk of spinal cord injury from minor trauma. Prospective cohort or case-control studies are needed to assess this risk. There is no evidence that prophylactic decompression surgery is helpful in this patient population. Decompression surgery appears to be helpful in patients with cervical myelopathy, but the significant risks may outweigh the unknown benefit in asymptomatic individuals. Thus, broad recommendations for decompression surgery in suspected at-risk individuals cannot be made. Recommendations to individual patients must consider possible unique circumstances.
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