Case Report

Nontraumatic Disc Herniation as a Cause of Unusual Cervical Spondylotic Myelopathy

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A 55-year-old previously healthy woman presented for evaluation of worsening right-sided numbness and thermoanesthesia.




A 55-year-old previously healthy woman with an insignificant medical history presented to the ED for evaluation of right-sided numbness, tingling, and inability to sense temperature. The patient stated the numbness and tingling first began in her right leg and thigh 2 months earlier, and had progressively worsened to her entire right-side. She said she first experienced the thermoanesthesia while taking a shower the morning of presentation. While showering, the patient noted that she could not feel any hot or cold sensation on the right side of her body, including her right leg and arm. She also reported decreased sensation to her extremities on the right side.

She denied any new weakness, headache, chest pain, shortness of breath, fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, back pain, neck pain, or any other symptoms. In addition, she denied any difficulty swallowing, speaking, blurry vision, or double vision. Regarding her social history, the patient denied a history of sexually transmitted diseases, including syphilis; or any tobacco, alcohol, or illicit drug use. The patient confirmed that she had never experienced any of the presenting symptoms prior to 2 months ago. There was no history of trauma or falls. A review of systems was otherwise negative.

Vital signs at presentation were: blood pressure, 129/88 mm Hg; heart rate, 99 beats/min; respiratory rate, 18 breaths/min; and temperature, 98.5°F. Oxygen saturation was 98% on room air. Physical examination revealed a middle-aged woman who was awake, alert, and oriented. Her head was normocephalic and atraumatic, and her pupils were 5 mm, equal, round, and reactive to light bilaterally. Her cranial nerves II through XII were intact. She had normal 5/5 strength in both her upper and lower extremities bilaterally, and had 2+ and equal bilateral patella and Achilles deep tendon reflexes. The patient had no truncal ataxia, and she had a normal gait on ambulation. She was unable to sense temperature (assessed by touching a cold metal tray with her right hand). There was no neck or back midline tenderness to palpation of her spine.

Initial laboratory studies included a complete blood count (CBC); basic metabolic panel (BMP), including blood urea nitrogen; and urine drug screen (UDS). The CBC and BMP were within normal limits, except for an elevated creatine kinase of 249 U/L. The UDS was positive for cocaine. A head computed tomography (CT) scan without contrast was unremarkable.

The patient was admitted to the hospital for further evaluation. Additional laboratory workup during the inpatient stay included nonreactive treponemal immunoglobulin G/immunoglobulin M; nonreactive HIV antigen antibody assay; normal thyroid stimulating hormone; normal free thyroxine, folate, and vitamin B 12 levels; normal erythrocyte sedimentation rate, and C-reactive protein levels. The patient’s hemoglobin A 1C was also within normal range.

Figure 1.
A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study of the cervical spine with and without gadolinium contrast demonstrated a large left paracentral disc protrusion at the C3-C4 level with associated severe acquired canal stenosis and ventral thecal sac effacement ( Figure 1 ). The anteroposterior (AP) diameter of the canal was approximately 3 mm at this level, and there was flattening of the ventral aspect of the cervical cord at the C3-C4 level ( Figure 2 ). There was no other evidence of cord edema, myelomalacia, or enhancing lesion.
Figure 2.

Other imaging studies, which included MR angiography (MRA) of the head and neck, and MRI of the thoracic and lumbar spine, were unremarkable, with the exception of some chronic spondylitic changes.

Due to the significant C3-C4 stenosis, orthopedic surgery services were consulted for a spinal surgery workup. The orthopedic examination identified a few beats of clonus, intact proprioception, and no dysmetria. The patient had decreased sensation to fine touch in the distribution of C7 at the level of the triceps, midphalangeal joints to distal fingertips on the right, fourth, and fifth fingers on the left and right lateral lower extremity. A Hoffmann sign was positive bilaterally. A CT scan of the cervical spine showed severe canal stenosis at the C3-C4 level secondary to a large C3-C4 left paracentral disc protrusion with AP dimensions of the canal measured at 4 to 5 mm. There was no evidence of acute cervical spine fracture or subluxation.

The patient was offered operative and nonoperative management options, including anterior cervical discectomy and fusion vs conservative management with corticosteroid therapy. She agreed to conservative management and received intravenous (IV) dexamethasone with subjective improvement in her symptoms. The patient was discharged home on hospital day 3, with instructions to follow-up with a spine surgeon in 2 weeks.

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