Cervical spondylosis

Cervical spondylosis

Cervical spondylosis, a common cause of chronic neck pain, is a result of degeneration of the cartilage and bones in your neck (cervical vertebrae), the discs (cushions) between your vertebrae and the joints between the bones of your 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 by this condition. Although it is a form of arthritis, cervical spondylosis rarely causes symptoms that are crippling or disabling.

Causes

Although the primary cause of cervical spondylosis is natural aging and degeneration of the cervical spine, other risk factors for cervical spondylosis include:

  • 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
  • Severe arthritis
  • Fractures of the spine from osteoporosis or traumatic injuries

Symptoms

Although cervical spondylosis symptoms generally develop slowly over time, they can flare or worsen suddenly. Common symptoms of cervical spondylosis include:

  • 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 backward
    • When you 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

Diagnosis

Cervical spondylosis diagnosis begins with a physical exam to test the range of motion in your neck and to check your reflexes and muscle strength, which will help to determine if you are experiencing pressure on your spinal cord or spinal nerves. Your doctor may observe your stride in order to assess if spinal compression is affecting the way you walk.

Treatment

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 include spinal fusion surgery.

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