Cervical spondylosis, also known as cervical osteoarthritis, is a common degenerative condition that affects the joints and discs of the neck. It is caused by wear and tear on the cervical spine over time, leading to changes in the bones, joints, and discs of the neck. These changes can include the formation of bone spurs, disc herniation, and thickening of ligaments in the neck.
How common is cervical spondylosis?
Cervical spondylosis is a common condition, particularly among older adults. It is estimated that up to 85% of people over the age of 60 have some degree of cervical spondylosis, although not all of these individuals will experience symptoms. The condition is more common in women than in men, and it tends to become more prevalent with age.
Who is most at risk for getting cervical spondylosis?
Cervical spondylosis is more common in older adults, particularly those over the age of 60. As we age, the discs in our spine begin to lose moisture and become less flexible, which can lead to degeneration and changes in the bones and joints of the neck. This natural aging process is the primary risk factor for cervical spondylosis.
Other risk factors for cervical spondylosis may include a history of neck injuries or trauma, repetitive strain on the neck from activities such as heavy lifting or prolonged computer use, and certain genetic factors that may increase an individual’s risk for developing degenerative disc disease.
Women may also be at a slightly higher risk for cervical spondylosis than men, although the reasons for this are not entirely clear. Additionally, individuals who have a sedentary lifestyle or who smoke may be at an increased risk for developing cervical spondylosis.
What causes cervical spondylosis?
Cervical spondylosis is primarily caused by age-related changes to the bones and cartilage within the neck. Over time, the discs in the spine lose a considerable amount of moisture and become less flexible, which can lead to degeneration and unwanted changes in the bones and joints of the neck. This can cause bone spurs to develop, which can cause compression of the nerves in the neck.
Cervical spondylosis can also be caused by various factors such as a previous neck injury or trauma, repetitive strain on the neck from activities like prolonged computer use or heavy lifting. Additionally, certain genetic factors may increase the risk of developing degenerative disc disease, which can also contribute to the development of cervical spondylosis.
In some cases, cervical spondylosis may also be associated with other underlying conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis or spinal stenosis. These conditions can also contribute to the degeneration of the bones and cartilage in the neck and increase the chance of developing cervical spondylosis.
What are the most common cervical spondylosis symptoms?
The most common symptoms of cervical spondylosis include:
- Neck pain and stiffness
- Headaches, especially at the back of the head
- Numbness or tingling in the arms or hands
- Weakness in the arms or hands
- Loss of balance or coordination
- Difficulty walking or standing for prolonged periods
- Muscle spasms in the neck and shoulders
- Grinding or popping sensations when moving the neck
- A limited range of motion in the neck.
These symptoms may worsen over time and may be more pronounced in the morning or after prolonged periods of sitting or standing. Some individuals with cervical spondylosis may also experience bladder or bowel problems, although this is much less common.
What are common cervical spondylosis treatments?
Treatment options for cervical spondylosis will depend on the severity of the condition and the symptoms. Common treatments may include:
- Medications: Although not a cure, over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help relieve pain and inflammation caused by cervical spondylosis. Prescription muscle relaxants or narcotics may also be recommended for severe pain.
- Physical therapy: Exercises and stretches can help improve neck strength and flexibility, and relieve pressure on nerves and discs. A physical therapist can help guide you on the right exercises.
- Steroid injections: If medications and physical therapy aren’t effective, your doctor may recommend a steroid injection to reduce inflammation and pain.
- Lifestyle changes: Making some lifestyle changes can help manage cervical spondylosis symptoms. For example, maintaining good posture, using a supportive pillow while sleeping, and avoiding activities that strain the neck can all help.
- Surgery: Surgery for cervical spondylosis is typically considered only when nonsurgical treatments haven’t provided relief or if the condition is causing severe symptoms.
- Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF): This is the most common surgery for cervical spondylosis. It involves removing the damaged disc and fusing the adjacent vertebrae together to stabilize the spine.
- Artificial disc replacement: This surgery involves replacing the damaged disc with an artificial one, which helps maintain the motion of the spine.
- Cervical laminectomy: This surgery involves removing the part of the vertebrae that is putting pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots.
- Corpectomy: In this surgery, a part of the vertebrae and the adjacent discs are removed to relieve pressure on the spinal cord.
- Foraminotomy: This surgery involves widening the bony opening (foramen) through which nerve roots exit the spinal cord to relieve pressure on the nerves.
Surgery is not without risks and potential complications, so it’s important to discuss the potential benefits and risks with your doctor before deciding on any surgery.
When should I call my doctor?
If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms related to cervical spondylosis, it is important to seek medical attention right away:
- Pain or stiffness in the neck that persists or gets worse over time
- Tingling, numbness, or weakness in the arms or hands
- Difficulty walking, loss of balance, or coordination problems
- Headaches that are worsened by neck movements
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
- Difficulty breathing (in very rare cases when the spinal cord is severely compressed)
If you experience any of these symptoms, you should contact the experts at The Spine Center to discuss your symptoms and obtain an evaluation. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent your condition from worsening and avoid further complications.