Facet cysts in the subaxial cervical spine: Case series focused on radiological and histopathological findings with a scoping review

Takashi Kusakabe, Takeshi Nakamura, Naoki Morozumi, Fumio Kasama, Shigetsune Matsuya, Takahiro Onoki, Toshimi Aizawa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Facet cysts in the subaxial cervical spine are a relatively rare cause of neuropathy. This case series aimed to investigate the radiological and histopathological features and surgical results of these lesions, and provide possible mechanisms of cyst development. Methods: Thirteen subaxial cervical facet cysts in 12 patients were diagnosed on the basis of magnetic resonance imaging and computed tomography with facet arthrography. Surgical outcomes were evaluated according to the Japanese Orthopaedic Association scores for cervical myelopathy, or Tanaka's scores for cervical radiculopathy. These results were presented in combination with a scoping review of the literature. Results: Seven cysts were found in the posteromedial region, and six in the posterolateral portion of the spinal canal. Computed tomography revealed degeneration of all involved facet joints. All patients underwent decompression, and the mean recovery rates of Japanese Orthopaedic Association scores and Tanaka's scores were 57.1% and 87.5%, respectively. Histopathologically, all cysts were continuous with the degenerated ligamentum flavum. In the scoping review, the patients' mean age was 65.1 years. The cysts were distributed as follows: 3.6% at C2–3, 10.7% at C3–4, 14.3% at C4–5, 5.4% at C5–6, 7.1% at C6–7, and 58.9% at C7–T1. The presenting symptoms were myelopathy (49.4%) and radiculopathy (50.0%). Radiologically, 55% and 45% of the cysts were of the posteromedial and posterolateral types. Of the patients, 76.9% underwent decompression only, and 23.1% had concomitant fusion. Cyst recurrence was not observed in the mean follow-up period of 15.1 months. Conclusions: The pathogenesis of cysts is closely related to degenerative changes in the facet joint and ligamentum flavum, and rupture in degenerated ligaments can develop into a cavity, which contributes to cyst formation. The scoping review suggests that cyst resection generally results in positive outcomes without recurrence in either decompression alone or concomitant fusion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)521-528
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Orthopaedic Science
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2023 May


  • Facet cyst
  • Myelopathy
  • Radiculopathy
  • Scoping review
  • Subaxial cervical spine
  • Surgical result


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