Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine, Ahead of Print.
OBJECTIVEThis study aimed to investigate the characteristics of cervical degeneration in Japanese professional wrestlers and its relationship with the risk of cervical spine injury (CSI).METHODSSince 2012, 27 Japanese male wrestlers belonging to a professional wrestling association have undergone periodical medical examinations of the cervical spine. If neurological symptoms were observed in the wrestlers, the resident trainers urged them to undergo a brief examination at the authors’ institutions. In addition to this prospective research study, the mechanisms of the CSIs that occurred in 5 wrestlers, including 2 with CSI before 2012 and 3 who were independent from the professional wrestling association, were retrospectively investigated by reviewing the circumstances of the injury and the wrestlers’ imaging studies.RESULTSThe mean age of the wrestlers was 36.9 years (range 23–56 years) at the initial examination. An anterior giant ossifying lesion (AGOL) was observed in the anterior aspect of the cervical spine of 11 wrestlers (41%). The AGOLs tended to grow and spread to multiple spinal levels as the wrestlers aged. Of the 12 wrestlers with osteogenic lesions, 10 older than 40 years of age (83%) had an AGOL, which is frequently accompanied by osseous spinal canal stenosis. Two wrestlers presented with spinal cord compression with intramedullary intensity change on MRI. However, during the follow-up period, no spinal cord injury (SCI) occurred in the wrestlers, although thoracolumbar injury occurred in 2 wrestlers during a match. In examining the 5 wrestlers with CSI, the injury occurred at the spinal levels without an AGOL. The most frequent pathology of CSI (60%) was SCI at the spinal level adjacent to the multilevel AGOL.CONCLUSIONSAGOL is a peculiar cervical degeneration of Japanese professional wrestlers, especially in aged wrestlers. The AGOL appears to be a biological reaction to reinforce the anterior aspect of the cervical spine of professional wrestlers, who routinely defend themselves in a flexed neck posture against their opponent. The present results suggest that the risk of CSI is not increased by spinal canal stenosis accompanied by AGOL. Further studies are needed to investigate the relationship between the wrestlers’ cervical degeneration and the risk of CSI in more detail.