Cervical spondylotic myelopathy (CSM) can cause many recognised symptoms which are easy to associate as they allude to nerve-related problems: numb and clumsy fingers, trouble walking with loss of balance, pain in the neck and arms, and urinary and bowel dysfunction.
However, what about the less well recognised or associated problems? For example, difficulty sleeping, anxiety and depression, and especially headache. As the main treatment for CSM is surgery, the impact of an operation on the well-recognised symptoms is well known, although not entirely predictable and understood. However, we do not know how surgery on CSM in the neck can impact upon headaches caused by CSM. A team of researchers in Beijing, China took it upon themselves to investigate this .
What did they do?
The researchers examined 108 cases of patients with CSM who complained of headache. Each patient was then given an operation using one of three surgical techniques: anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF), total disc replacement (TDR), or laminoplasty. The patients were then re-assessed at 25 and 145 months after their operation. The team discovered that roughly 4 out of 5 patients (80%) found that the operation improved their headache, often even making it go away all together! The other 1 out of 5 patients (20%) did not get any benefit from the surgery for their headache. However, it is of course possible that these patients’ headaches were not related to their CSM in the first place. The researchers also found that all three types of surgery showed the same improvement in headache; no approach was dramatically better than the other two.
So, what does this all mean?
Well, although surgery is not currently indicated for treatment of headache alone, relieving pressure on the spinal cord does seem to improve CSM-induced headache, which is promising news! Based on this single study, if you have a headache caused by CSM then you stand a good chance of seeing some improvement of this headache after an operation on your neck. Of course, more research is needed to confirm these findings, as this is almost a stand-alone project – however, it does signal some hope to those suffering from cervicogenic headaches!