Cervical spondylosis, a common cause of chronic neck pain, is the degeneration of the cartilage and bones of the neck (cervical vertebrae), the discs (cushions) between the vertebrae and the joints between the bones of the cervical spine. Abnormal growths (bone spurs) may also appear on the bones of the spine. Cervical spondylosis becomes more common as people age. Statistics show that more than 85 percent of people over age 60 are affected. Although it is a form of arthritis, cervical spondylosis rarely causes symptoms that are crippling or disabling.
Although the primary cause of cervical spondylosis is natural aging and degeneration of the cervical spine, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) lists the following risk factors for cervical spondylosis:
- Being overweight and not exercising
- Having a job that requires heavy lifting or a lot of bending and twisting
- Past neck injury (often several years before)
- Past spine surgery
- Ruptured or herniated cervical disc – Also known as a slipped disc, a herniated disc is a condition caused by injury, disease or normal wear and tear on the discs in the neck area of the spine. The discs are shock-absorbing cushions between the vertebrae (spinal bones) that keep them from rubbing against each other. When a disc is damaged, it may bulge or rupture (herniate) outside of its normal position and cause pain and other nerve-related problems
- Severe arthritis
- Fractures of the spine from osteoporosis or traumatic injuries
Although symptoms usually develop slowly over time, they can start suddenly or worsen suddenly. You may experience any of these common symptoms of cervical spondylosis:
- Pain over the shoulder blade
- Pain that spreads to the upper arm, forearm or, rarely, fingers
- Pain worsening:
- After prolonged standing or sitting
- At night
- When you sneeze or cough
- When you bend your neck backwards or walk more than a few yards
- Muscle weakness
- Difficulty lifting your arm
- Stiff neck that worsens over time
- Numbness or abnormal sensations in your shoulders, arms or, rarely, legs
- Headaches, primarily in the back of your head
Less common symptoms of cervical spondylosis are:
- Loss of balance
- Loss of bladder or bowel control resulting in incontinence of urine or stool
Many people with cervical spondylosis are able to maintain active lives. Unfortunately, some will have to continually manage chronic pain.
Treatment options for cervical spondylosis focus on nonsurgical approaches such as pain medications, injections, physical therapy, a home exercise program, cold packs and heat therapy. Surgical treatments are sometimes necessary and usually include spinal fusion surgery.
The multidisciplinary team of spine experts at Northwell Health Orthopaedic Institute treats cervical spondylosis as well as a broad range of spine conditions that can occur at any stage of life.