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What is Cervical Spondylosis?

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  • Written By: Sarah Snypes
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 28 September 2016
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Cervical spondylosis is a condition that is caused by irregular wear and tear on the bones and cartilage of the neck. Also referred to as neck arthritis, this disorder may be the result of spurs on the spinal bones, or ligament and disk problems. Osteoarthritis is thought to be the main cause of this condition. The primary risk factor for development of cervical spondylosis is aging; however, a previous injury to the neck can also cause a person to be more susceptible to the disorder.

The most common cause of spinal cord problems in people over the age of 55 is cervical spondylosis. Symptoms of this condition may be a result of spinal cord compression, spinal nerve root compression, or both. An unsteady, jerky walk and loss of flexibility in the neck are the first indications that the spinal cord is compressed, with decreased sensation in both the hands and the feet also present. If the compression is centered around the spinal cord roots, there is usually extreme neck pain that radiates to the head, arms, and shoulders. Arms muscles may weaken and waste away, causing the arms to go limp.

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Symptoms of neck arthritis range from mild to profound. Overuse of the neck, or a neck or ligament muscle spasm, can cause an exacerbation of symptoms. Individuals experiencing a flare-up will often have neck stiffness, typically after a night’s sleep. Headaches are also common, and there may be weakness or numbness in the arms and hands.

Physicians usually diagnose cervical spondylosis according to patient symptoms. Computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can confirm the diagnosis. MRI is the preferred scanning method, because it shows a more detailed view of the spinal cord and spinal cord roots. Both methods, however, can reveal which of the spinal nerve roots are affected, and the extreme to which the spinal cord is compressed.

Cervical spondylosis symptoms may lessen or stabilize without any form of treatment. If the symptoms are mild, there are a variety of non-surgical treatments options available, including medication, rest, and physical therapy. While non-surgical treatments may remove symptoms, the underlying cause still remains. Follow-up visits are crucial to check symptom progress.

For more severe forms of cervical spondylosis, surgical treatment is favored. Spinal surgery is often used to remove disk matter or bony spurs, and can provide lasting pain relief. The earlier the surgery is performed, the more promising the prognosis.

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