Ossification of the posterior longitudinal ligament: Pathogenesis, management, and current surgical approaches: A review

Zachary A. Smith, Colin C. Buchanan, Dan Raphael, Larry T. Khoo*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

82 Scopus citations


Ossification of the posterior longitudinal ligament (OPLL) is an important cause of cervical myelopathy that results from bony ossification of the cervical or thoracic posterior longitudinal ligament (PLL). It has been estimated that nearly 25% of patients with cervical myelopathy will have features of OPLL. Patients commonly present in their mid-40s or 50s with clinical evidence of myelopathy. On MR and CT imaging, this can be seen as areas of ossification that commonly coalesce behind the cervical vertebral bodies, leading to direct ventral compression of the cord. While MR imaging will commonly demonstrate associated changes in the soft tissue, CT scanning will better define areas of ossification. This can also provide the clinician with evidence of possible dural ossification. The surgical management of OPLL remains a challenge to spine surgeons. Surgical alternatives include anterior, posterior, or circumferential decompression and/or stabilization. Anterior cervical stabilization options include cervical corpectomy or multilevel anterior cervical corpectomy and fusion, while posterior stabilization approaches include instrumented or noninstrumented fusion or laminoplasty. Each of these approaches has distinct advantages and disadvantages. While anterior approaches may provide more direct decompression and best improve myelopathy scores, there is soft-tissue morbidity associated with the anterior approach. Posterior approaches, including laminectomy and fusion and laminoplasty, may be well tolerated in older patients. However, there often is associated axial neck pain and less improvement in myelopathy scores. In this review, the authors discuss the epidemiology, imaging findings, and clinical presentation of OPLL. The authors additionally discuss the merits of the different surgical techniques in the management of this challenging disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalNeurosurgical focus
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2011


  • Cervical spine
  • Corpectomy
  • Laminoplasty
  • Ossification
  • Posterior longitudinal ligament
  • Spinal decompression
  • Spinal surgery

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Surgery


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