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The Association Between Preoperative Spinal Cord Rotation and Postoperative C5 Nerve Palsy
Mark S. Eskander, MD1; Steve M. Balsis, PhD2; Chris Balinger, MD3; Caitlin M. Howard, MD4; Nicholas W. Lewing, MD4; Jonathan P. Eskander, MD4; Michelle E. Aubin, MD3; Jeffrey Lange, MD3; Jason Eck, DO, MS3; Patrick J. Connolly, MD3; Louis G. Jenis, MD5
1 Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, 3471 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213. E-mail address: eskanderms@upmc.edu
2 Department of Psychology, Office 286 Psychology Building, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843
3 Department of Orthopedic Surgery, University of Massachusetts Medical School, 55 Lake Avenue, Worcester, MA 01655
4 Tulane University Medical School, 1430 Tulane Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70112
5 The Boston Spine Group, 299 Washington Street, Newton, MA 02458
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Investigation performed at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, Worcester, Massachusetts

Disclosure: None of the authors received payments or services, either directly or indirectly (i.e., via his or her institution), from a third party in support of any aspect of this work. One or more of the authors, or his or her institution, has had a financial relationship, in the thirty-six months prior to submission of this work, with an entity in the biomedical arena that could be perceived to influence or have the potential to influence what is written in this work. No author has had any other relationships, or has engaged in any other activities, that could be perceived to influence or have the potential to influence what is written in this work. The complete Disclosures of Potential Conflicts of Interest submitted by authors are always provided with the online version of the article.

Copyright © 2012 by The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Inc.
J Bone Joint Surg Am, 2012 Sep 05;94(17):1605-1609. doi: 10.2106/JBJS.K.00664
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C5 nerve palsy is a known complication of cervical spine surgery. The development and etiology of this complication are not completely understood. The purpose of the present study was to determine whether rotation of the cervical spinal cord predicts the development of a C5 palsy.


We performed a retrospective review of prospectively collected spine registry data as well as magnetic resonance images. We reviewed the records for 176 patients with degenerative disorders of the cervical spine who underwent anterior cervical decompression or corpectomy within the C4 to C6 levels. Our measurements included area for the spinal cord, space available for the cord, and rotation of the cord with respect to the vertebral body.


There was a 6.8% prevalence of postoperative C5 nerve palsy as defined by deltoid motor strength of ≤3 of 5. The average rotation of the spinal cord (and standard deviation) was 2.8° ± 3.0°. A significant association was detected between the degree of rotation (0° to 5° versus 6° to 10° versus ≥11°) and palsy (point-biserial correlation = 0.94; p < 0.001). A diagnostic criterion of 6° of rotation could identify patients who had a C5 palsy (sensitivity = 1.00 [95% confidence interval, 0.70 to 1.00], specificity = 0.97 [95% confidence interval, 0.93 to 0.99], positive predictive value = 0.71 [95% confidence interval, 0.44 to 0.89], negative predictive value = 1.00 [95% confidence interval, 0.97 to 1.00]).


Our evidence suggests that spinal cord rotation is a strong and significant predictor of C5 palsy postoperatively. Patients can be classified into three types, with Type 1 representing mild rotation (0° to 5°), Type 2 representing moderate rotation (6° to 10°), and Type 3 representing severe rotation (≥11°). The rate of C5 palsy was zero of 159 in the Type-1 group, eight of thirteen in the Type-2 group, and four of four in the Type-3 group. This information may be valuable for surgeons and patients considering anterior surgery in the C4 to C6 levels.

Level of Evidence: 

Prognostic Level II. See Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

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    These activities have been planned and implemented in accordance with the Essential Areas and policies of the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) through the joint sponsorship of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Inc. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons is accredited by the ACCME to provide continuing medical education for physicians.
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