Background In patients with degenerative cervical myelopathy (DCM) that have spinal cord compression and sensorimotor deficits, surgical decompression is often performed. However, there is heterogeneity in clinical presentation and post-surgical functional recovery. Objectives Primary: a) to assess differences in muscle fat infiltration (MFI) in patients with DCM versus controls, b) to assess association between MFI and clinical disability. Secondary: to assess association between MFI pre-surgery and post-surgical functional recovery. Study design Cross-sectional case control study. Methods Eighteen patients with DCM (58.6 ± 14.2 years, 10 M/8F) and 25 controls (52.6 ± 11.8 years, 13M/12 F) underwent 3D Dixon fat-water imaging. A convolutional neural network (CNN) was used to segment cervical muscles (MFSS- multifidus and semispinalis cervicis, LC- longus capitis/colli) and quantify MFI. Modified Japanese Orthopedic Association (mJOA) and Nurick were collected. Results Patients with DCM had significantly higher MFI in MFSS (20.63 ± 5.43 vs 17.04 ± 5.24, p = 0.043) and LC (18.74 ± 6.7 vs 13.66 ± 4.91, p = 0.021) than controls. Patients with increased MFI in LC and MFSS had higher disability (LC: Nurick (Spearman's ρ = 0.436, p = 0.003) and mJOA (ρ = -0.399, p = 0.008)). Increased MFI in LC pre-surgery was associated with post-surgical improvement in Nurick (ρ = -0.664, p = 0.026) and mJOA (ρ = -0.603, p = 0.049). Conclusion In DCM, increased muscle adiposity is significantly associated with sensorimotor deficits, clinical disability, and functional recovery after surgery. Accurate and time efficient evaluation of fat infiltration in cervical muscles may be conducted through implementation of CNN models.
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