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November 1996

Cervical Myelopathy With False Localizing Sensory Levels

Arch Neurol. 1996;53(11):1155-1158. doi:10.1001/archneur.1996.00550110099018

Background:  The diagnosis of cervical myelopathy is not always initially recognized. Only a few reports have described the discrepancy between sensory level and the site of cord compression, but none, to our knowledge, have used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for localization.

Objective:  To identify a syndrome of compressive cervical myelopathy with false localizing thoracic sensory levels.

Design:  Case series.


A university hospital referral center. 

Results:  Four men, aged 24 to 60 years, presented with progressive weakness and hyperreflexia involving the lower extremities and distinct thoracic sensory levels ranging from T-4 to T-10. None of these patients had cervical pain, history of trauma, or upper extremity symptoms. Results of MRI scans of the thoracic spinal cord were unremarkable. Initially, 1 patient was suspected of having transverse myelitis and was treated with high-dose steroids. All 4 patients were eventually found to have cervical spinal cord compression, diagnosed by MRI. Three patients underwent surgery for decompression of the cervical lesion. While all 3 improved in lower extremity strength, 2 had persistent discrete thoracic sensory levels postoperatively.

Conclusions:  Failure to diagnose cervical myelopathy because of the presence of a thoracic sensory level can delay appropriate treatment or lead to incorrect therapy. Persistence of a thoracic sensory level following surgery can occur.