Encyclopedia

Cervical spondylosis

Cervical spondylosis /CS/ is a general term that describes age-related wear and tear affecting the spinal discs in the neck area.

When discs become dehydrated and shrink, bone spurs and other signs of osteoarthritis begin to develop.

CS is very common and gets worse with age. A causative genetic factor has also been identified, as these degenerative changes are more pronounced in certain families.

More than 90% of people over the age of 65 are affected by CS and spondylosis, with characteristic degenerative changes visible on X-rays.

But a larger proportion of this group of people do not develop symptoms indicating the presence of CS. When complaints appear in the majority of cases non-surgical methods of treatment are effective.

What are the symptoms?

In most cases, CS does not cause clinical symptoms. And when they do occur, they usually only affect the neck, causing pain and stiffness.

Sometimes CS results in a narrowing of the space needed for the spinal cord and the nerve roots that originate in the medulla spinalis to pass through the spine to the rest of the body.

If the spinal cord or nerve roots are pinched, the affected person may feel:

• Tingling, numbness, and weakness in the arms, hands, legs, or feet;
Lack of coordination and difficulty walking;
• Loss of bladder muscle control or of the intestines;

Seek medical help if you experience sudden numbness or weakness, or if you are unable to control your bladder or bowel movements.

What are the causes?

As we age, the bones and cartilage that make up the spine and neck gradually develop degenerative changes, such as:

Dehydration of the discs which act as cushions between the vertebrae of the spine. Around age 40, most people’s spinal discs begin to dehydrate and shrink, making it easier for the bones that make up the different vertebrae to come into contact.

• Herniated discs – advancing age also affects the outer surface of the spinal discs. As a result, cracks appear in the cartilage, causing the discs to bulge or herniate. Sometimes this swelling can compress the spinal cord and spinal nerve roots.

• Bone spurs – disc degeneration often results in the formation of extra amounts of bone tissue in the spine, called bone spurs, in a failed attempt to heal and strengthen the spine. These bony growths can cause serious injury to the spinal cord and spinal nerve roots.

• Tough tendons – ligaments are connective tissue that provides the connection between two bones. As we age, the spinal tendons can harden and calcify, making the neck less flexible.

What are the complications?

If the spinal cord or nerve roots are severely compressed as a result of CS, the damage may be permanent.

Treatment of Cervical Spondylosis

Mild cases of CS may be affected by:

• Regular exercise – maintaining physical activity will help the accelerated recovery of the spine, even if some exercises have to be temporarily changed due to neck pain;

• Pain relievers such as ibuprofen, naproxen or paracetamol are often sufficient to control the pain associated with CS.

• Heat or ice packs – you can try applying warm or ice packs, especially if your neck is sore.

• Soft neck straps – but should be worn sparingly as they can weaken the neck muscles.

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