Spinal Problems Neck Pain Cervical Spondylosis

Depending on the source, “cervical spondylosis” is a general term that refers to age-related wear and tear affecting the intervertebral discs in the neck. This degeneration may lead to cervical osteoarthritis. “Cervical spondylosis” may also refer to arthritis of the neck.

Either way, cervical spondylosis causes the spinal discs to degenerate and lose water content with age. As the discs dry out and weaken, the disc space loses height, causing increased pressure on the bony spinal facet joints. This increased pressure causes the joints to degenerate, causing osteoarthritis.

Cervical Spondylosis Symptoms

The most common cervical spondylosis symptoms are neck pain and stiffness, which can range from mild to severe. Cervical spondylosis pain and stiffness may worsen with activity and improve during periods of rest.

Other possible cervical spondylosis symptoms include:

  • Difficulty walking (loss of balance)
  • Grinding and popping during neck movement
  • Headaches
  • Muscle spasms in neck and shoulders
  • Numbness and weakness in arms, hands and fingers.

Cervical Spondylosis Complications

Cervical spondylosis can lead to other conditions. For example, the associated degeneration can lead to bones rubbing against each other, causing the body to grow new bone (called “bone spurs” or “osteophytes”). These spurs may narrow either the space through which the nerves pass, or the spinal canal (causing foraminal or spinal stenosis). They may also compress one or more of the spinal nerves creating cervical radiculopathy (a pinched nerve).

Treatment of Cervical Spondylosis

Symptoms of mild cervical spondylosis often disappear without treatment. However, doctors may recommend acetaminophen or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to relieve pain and inflammation. If these medications don’t relieve your cervical spondylosis symptoms, your doctor may also prescribe muscle relaxants.

Medical professionals often recommend physical therapy to strengthen and stretch weak or strained muscles as well. Joints and ligaments also need routine maintenance. The physical therapist may use cervical traction and posture therapy in order to relieve cervical spondylosis pain.

Doctors will sometimes recommend a soft cervical collar to limit neck motion and help rest the neck muscles. You should only wear soft collars for short periods of time in order to avoid losing neck muscle strength.

Other methods that may help relieve symptoms include applying:

  • Heat
  • Ice
  • Massage therapy.

If these treatments don’t work, a corticosteroid injection around the disc and nerves between the vertebrae may reduce cervical spondylosis pain and inflammation. Unfortunately, these injections don’t always work, and the effects are usually temporary. This treatment option is often only used as a last attempt to avoid surgery.

If no other treatments work or if neurological symptoms, such as weakness in your arms or legs, are worsening, surgery may be necessary to relieve pressure on nerves.

Preventing Cervical Spondylosis Pain

Because cervical spondylosis is generally associated with aging, it is not completely preventable. That being said, in order to decrease your risk of developing this condition, you may want to avoid:

  • Holding your head in the same position for long periods (reading, driving, working at a computer)
  • Injuries or trauma (car accident, sports injury, work injury)
  • Jobs that require lots of neck motion and overhead work
  • Mental health issues (depression and anxiety)
  • Smoking.

Resources

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) Staff. (2009). Cervical spondylosis (arthritis of the neck). Retrieved March 29, 2010, from http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00369

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2010). Cervical spondylosis. Retrieved March 29, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/cervical-spondylosis/DS00697

Rana, S.S. (2010). Cervical spondylosis, diagnosis and management. Retrieved March 29, 2010, from http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1144952-overview