Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Upper Spine FAQ

Question:

My elderly mother-in-law is Asian and just diagnosed with OLF. The doctor tells me this is fairly common among older adults from Japan or East Asia. What can you tell me about it?

Answer:

OLF stands for ossification of the ligamentum flavum or OLF. The ligamentum flavum is a continuous band of ligamentous tissue along the backside of the spinal canal. It connects the lamina of the vertebra in a vertical fashion. The lamina is the bone that forms the ring around the spinal cord.

As the vertebral bones stack up one on top of the other, the ligamentum flavum runs from top to bottom. OLF is most common in the thoracic spine (middle of the spine) from T9 to T12. People in Japan, Korea, India, the Middle East, and the Caribbean are affected most often. Men ages 40 to 60 are diagnosed most often but women can have OLF, too.

Basically what happens is the ligament starts to thicken as we age. Bits of bone replace the fibrous tissue of the ligament causing it to harden as well. As it thickens and hardens, it takes up some of the space in the spinal canal. This puts pressure on the spinal cord and can cause mild to severe symptoms. Paralysis is even possible.

The most successful treatment seems to be surgery. The ligament is removed in the areas where it is causing the most problems. This operation is called a surgical decompression. Results of treatment vary and remain unpredictable. Johi Inamasu, MD, PhD, and Bernard H. Guiot, MD, FRSC(C). A Review of Factors Predictive of Surgical Outcome for Ossification of the Ligamentum Flavus of the Thoracic Spine. In Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine. August 2006. Vol. 5. No. 2. Pp. 133-139.

*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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