(Age-related wear and tear of the spine)
Cervical spondylosis is a type of degenerative disease that affects your neck. Normally, soft disks between the bones in your spine (called vertebrae) provide cushioning. With cervical spondylosis, these disks become squeezed (compressed). Also the facet joints and ligaments of your spine become larger and thicker. As a result, your neck becomes more rigid over time.
When this happens, the connective tissue (cartilage) that lines the vertebrae on each side of the disc, where they touch, can wear away. Once this protective cartilage is gone, bone spurs may develop on your vertebrae where they rub together. Nerves attached to your spinal cord may have less room to pass between the vertebrae on their way out of the spine.
Facts about cervical spondylosis
This condition becomes more common with age. But many people don't have symptoms. You may not even be aware that these changes are going on in your neck.
Cervical spondylosis usually doesn't lead to disability. But sometimes these changes in the spine can cause the spinal cord or nerve roots attached to it to become compressed. This can cause your legs or hands to feel weak or clumsy.
Symptoms of cervical spondylosis can include:
Pain in the neck that may travel to your arms or shoulders
A grinding feeling when you move your neck
Weakness in your arms and legs
Numbness in your shoulders, arms, or hands
Stiffness in the neck
Trouble keeping your balance, especially when walking
Trouble controlling your bladder or bowels
Your healthcare provider will give you a physical examination to see if you have this condition. You will probably discuss any neck injuries you've had and describe your symptoms. The healthcare provider will probably check your neck, shoulders, arms, and legs to see how well they're working. Other tests that may help make a diagnosis include:
Imaging tests. X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans all provide images of the structures in your spine for the healthcare provider to see. These can show the bones, disks, muscles, and nerves in and around your neck, as well as your spinal cord.
Myelography. During this test, the healthcare provider injects a dye into the fluid around your spinal cord and then does a CT scan to see how the bone spurs and disks are interacting with the individual nerves.
Electromyography. This test shows how well your nerves are passing along signals from your spinal cord to your muscles.
DEXA scan. This is done to determine your bone density.
Your healthcare provider can recommend a variety of treatments for pain relief from this condition, depending on your needs. These may include:
Medicines. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines, such as ibuprofen or aspirin, opioid pain relievers, and muscle relaxants may help.
Physical therapy. A physical therapist can teach you stretching and strengthening exercises that may ease symptoms.
Ice or heat. Cool your neck with an ice pack or heat it with a warming pad as directed by your healthcare provider or physical therapist.
Collar. Wearing a soft collar around your neck for short periods may help your symptoms. It can cause your neck to weaken, however, if you wear it too long.
Shots. A healthcare provider can inject steroid medicine and pain-relieving medicines into the painful joint in your neck or into the space next to your spinal cord.
Surgery. In most cases, surgery is not needed. But surgeons can do different procedures to relieve pressure on the spinal cord or the nerves leaving your spine, if needed. A surgeon can remove bone from around the opening that allows the nerve to exit the spine or bone from other parts of the vertebrae. He or she may also fuse bones in the spine after 1 of these procedures. If you have surgery, an anesthesia provider will put you to sleep beforehand so you don't feel it.
You may not be able to prevent cervical spondylosis, but these steps may reduce your risk:
Managing cervical spondylosis
Talk with your healthcare provider about the best nonsurgical ways to help relieve your symptoms. The best option may be a combination approach of medicine and physical therapy.