Geroscience. 2023 Oct 25. doi: 10.1007/s11357-023-00983-3. Online ahead of print.
Degenerative cervical myelopathy (DCM) is a leading cause of age-related non-traumatic spinal cord disorders resulting from chronic degeneration of the cervical spine. While traditional clinical assessments rely on patient-reported measures, this study used the NIH Toolbox Motor Battery (NIHTBm) as an objective, quantitative measure to determine DCM severity. The objective is to define NIHTBm cutoff values that can accurately classify the severity of DCM neuromotor dysfunction. A case-controlled pilot study of patients with DCM and age-matched controls. The focus was an in-depth quantitative motor assessment using the NIHTBm to understand the severity of neuromotor deficits due to degenerative spine disease. Motor assessments, dexterity, grip strength, balance, and gait speed were measured in 45 DCM patients and 37 age-matched healthy subjects (HC). Receiver operating curve (ROC) analysis determined cutoff values for mild and moderate-to-severe myelopathy which were validated by comparing motor assessment scores with disability scores. The ROC curves identified thresholds for mild dexterity impairment (T-score range 38.4 – 33.5, AUC 0.77), moderate-to-severe dexterity impairment (< 33.5, AUC 0.70), mild grip strength impairment (47.4 – 32.0, AUC 0.80), moderate-to-severe grip strength impairment (< 32.0, AUC 0.75), mild balance impairment (36.4 – 33.0, AUC 0.61), and moderate-to-severe balance impairment (< 33.0, AUC 0.78). Mild gait speed impairment was defined as 0.78-0.6 m/sec (AUC 0.65), while moderate-to-severe gait speed impairment was < 0.6 m/sec (AUC 0.65). The NIHTB motor score cutoff points correlated negatively with the DCM neck disability index (NDI) and showed balance and dexterity measures as independent indicators of DCM dysfunction. The use of NIHTB allows for precise delineation of DCM severity by establishing cutoff values corresponding to mild and moderate-to-severe myelopathy. The use of NIHTB in DCM allows enhanced clinical precision, enabling clinicians to better pinpoint specific motor deficits in DCM and other neurological disorders with motor deficits, including stroke and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Furthermore, the utility of objective assessment, NIHTB, allows us to gain a better understanding of the heterogeneity of DCM, which will enhance treatment strategies. This study serves as a foundation for future research to facilitate the discovery of innovative treatment strategies for DCM and other neurological conditions.