CT and MRI characteristics of ossification of the ligamenta flava in the thoracic spine
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The purpose of this study was to compare MRI findings with CT findings of mass-forming calcification/ossification of the thoracic ligamenta flava (OTLF). Twenty-one Chinese patients presented with clinical evidence of chronic and progressive thoracic spinal cord compression which included: difficulty in walking; weakness; and/or numbness of the extremities, back pain, and lower extremity paresthesias. Axial and sagittal T1-weighted imaging (T1WI) and T2-weighted imaging (T2WI) were performed through the thoracic spine on a 1.0-T Impact unit (Siemens, Erlangen, Germany). Axial CT was obtained with 5-mm contiguous sections through the thoracic region. Decompressive surgery with resection of the OTLF were carried out in all patients. Low signal intensity of the mass-forming OTLF was demonstrated at a single level (n=1) or at multiple levels (n=20) on both T1WI and T2WI. The distribution of OTLF was bilateral at all levels identified in 6 cases, unilateral at all levels in 5 patients, and both unilateral and bilateral at different levels in 10 cases. Ossification of the thoracic ligamenta flava involved the upper thoracic spine (T1–4) in 3 cases, midthoracic spine (T5–8) in 3 cases, lower thoracic spine (T9–12) in 10 cases, and more than one thoracic spinal subregion in 5 cases. Computed tomography confirmed the MR findings regarding the location and distribution of OTLF in all cases, as well as the associated evidence of central spinal canal stenosis. In addition, 5 patients revealed associated ossification of the posterior longitudinal ligament. All patients demonstrated gradual, but incomplete, clinical improvement of the radiculomyelopathy following decompressive surgery. Ossification of the posterior longitudinal ligament resulting in thoracic central spinal canal stenosis and clinical radiculomyelopathy is not uncommon in the Asian people. Ossification of the thoracic ligamenta flava can be accurately evaluated equally well by CT and MR with regard to level(s) and side(s) of involvement, as well as to the relative degree of central spinal canal stenosis and the associated compression of the thoracic spinal cord.
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