(Arthritis of the Neck)
Cervical spondylosis is a type of arthritis that affects your neck. Normally, soft disks between your vertebrae, the bones in your spine, provide cushioning. With cervical spondylosis, these disks become compressed.
When this happens, the cartilage that covers the bones where they touch can wear away. Once this protective cartilage is gone, spurs may develop on your vertebrae where they rub together. Nerves attached to your spinal cord may have less room to pass between the vertebrae on their way through your body.
This condition becomes more common with age, and most people who are older than 60 have it. Many, however, don't have symptoms—you may not even be aware that these changes are going on in your neck.
Cervical spondylosis usually doesn't lead to disability. But sometimes these changes in the spine can cause the spinal cord or nerve roots attached to it to become compressed. This can cause your legs or hands to feel weak or clumsy.
Symptoms of cervical spondylosis can include:
Pain in the neck that may travel to your arms or shoulders
A grinding feeling when you move your neck
Weakness in your arms
Numbness in your shoulders, arms, or hands
Stiffness in the neck
Trouble keeping your balance
Trouble controlling your bladder or bowels
Your health care provider will give you a physical examination to see if you have this condition. You will probably discuss any neck injuries you've had and describe your symptoms. The health care provider will probably check your neck, shoulders, arms, and legs to see how well they're working. Other tests that may help make a diagnosis include:
Imaging tests. X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans all provide images of the structures in your spine for the health care provider to see. These can show the bones, disks, muscles, and nerves in and around your neck, as well as your spinal cord.
Myelography. During this test, the doctor injects a dye into the fluid around your spinal cord and then does a CT scan to see how the bone spurs and disks are interacting with the individual nerves.
Electromyography. This test shows how well your nerves are passing along signals from your spinal cord to your muscles.
Your health care provider can recommend a variety of treatments for pain relief from cervical spondylosis, depending on your needs. These may include:
Medications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen or aspirin, opioid pain relievers, and muscle relaxants may help.
Physical therapy. A physical therapist can teach you stretching and strengthening exercises that may ease symptoms.
Ice or heat. Cool your neck with an ice pack or heat it with a warming pad as directed by your health care provider or physical therapist.
Collar. Wearing a soft collar around your neck for short periods may help your symptoms. It can cause your neck to weaken, however, if you wear it too long.
Injections. A doctor can inject steroid medication and pain-relieving drugs into the painful joint in your neck or into the space next to your spinal cord.
Surgery. In most cases, surgery is not needed. But surgeons can do different procedures to relieve pressure on the spinal cord or the nerves leaving your spine, if necessary. A surgeon can remove bone from around the opening that allows the nerve to exit the spine or bone from other parts of the vertebrae and may also fuse bones in the spine after one of these procedures. If you have surgery, an anesthesia provider will put you to sleep beforehand so you don't feel it.
You may not be able to prevent cervical spondylosis, but these steps may reduce your risk:
Stay physically active.
Use good posture.
Prevent neck injuries by always wearing a seatbelt in vehicles and using the right equipment and the right form when exercising or playing sports.
Talk with your health care provider about the best nonsurgical steps to help relieve your symptoms, possibly a combination approach of medication and physical therapy.