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Ossification of the anterior longitudinal ligament affects the severity and distribution of neurological deficits following spinal cord injury without radiological abnormality.

BACKGROUND: The incidence of spinal cord injury without radiological abnormality (SCIWORA) is increasing among older adults in developed countries. SCIWORA is commonly associated with ossification of the spinal ligament, specifically the ossification of the posterior longitudinal ligament (OPLL) and ossification of the anterior longitudinal ligament (OALL). OALL induces segmental spinal fusion and alters the biomechanical properties of the cervical spine; however, whether OALL modulates the severity of SCIWORA remains unknown. This study aimed to investigate the influence of OALL on the severity and distribution of neurological deficits following SCIWORA.

METHODS: This retrospective study included 122 patients with SCIWORA who were admitted to our hospital from April 2008 to March 2022. The neurological function of all the included patients was assessed via the American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) Impairment Scale (AIS) at admission. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography were performed within 48 h of trauma. Central cord syndrome (CCS) was defined as the upper-extremity ASIA motor score being at least 10 points lesser than the lower-extremity motor score.

RESULTS: The study included 122 patients with a mean age of 65.1 years. Comparing mild (AIS grades C or D) and severe (AIS grades A or B) neurological deficits revealed that the former was independently associated with ground-level falls, OALL, and absence of prevertebral T2 high-intensity area on MRI. Although 39% of patients with SCIWORA exhibited OPLL as an etiology of cervical stenosis, OPLL demonstrated no significant effect on the severity of neurological deficits. CCS occurrence was independently associated with OALL and a larger cross-sectional cord area on MRI. Patients with OALL had significantly higher lower-extremity ASIA motor scores than those without OALL.

CONCLUSIONS: OALL was significantly associated with mild neurological deficits in the lower extremities and with the occurrence of CCS after SCIWORA.

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