What is cervical spondylosis?

Cervical spondylolysis refers to osteoarthritis in the neck caused by normal wear and tear in the cervical spine as people age. Most people do not experience symptoms of cervical spondylolysis, but if they do, symptoms can be relieved with nonsurgical treatment options.  

If left untreated and the nerves become severely compressed, you may experience permanent nerve damage.

Causes of cervical spondylosis

Cervical spondylosis occurs naturally as you age due to changes in the spinal cord, which can include:

  • Herniated discs — cervical spondylosis can occur when bulging discs put pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots.
  • Bone spurs — discs degenerate over time, which prompts your body to produce more bone, resulting in bone spurs. These bone spurs can put pressure on the cervical spine leading to cervical spondylosis.
  • Stiff ligaments — your neck ligaments get stiffer with age and can cause cervical spondylosis.
  • Dehydrated discs — as you age, the cervical discs can dry out, which can cause bone on bone contact.


Risk factors for cervical spondylosis

Risk factors for cervical spondylosis include:

  • Age — as people age, they are at a higher risk for developing arthritis in the neck.
  • Genetics — there is evidence that osteoarthritis is hereditary; therefore, some people may be predisposed to the condition.
  • Occupation — careers that involve repetitive neck motions can add extra stress on your neck.
  • Neck injuries — if you have had a previous neck injury, you may be at a higher risk to develop arthritis in the neck.
  • Genetic factors — there is evidence that arthritis in the neck is hereditary.
  • Smoking — smoking can increase pain in the neck.
  • Weight — overweight people put more weight on the joints and tend to develop neck osteoarthritis sooner.

Symptoms of cervical spondylosis

Symptoms of cervical osteoarthritis include:

  • Pain and stiffness in the neck
  • A headache that originates in the neck
  • Shoulder or arm pain
  • Difficulty turning the head or bending the neck
  • Grinding sensation when turning the neck

Symptoms of cervical spondylosis can improve with rest and are more severe in the morning, as well as at the end of the day. If cervical osteoarthritis puts pressure on the spinal cord, it can cause a condition called cervical myelopathy.

Diagnosis of cervical spondylosis

Cervical spondylosis is often diagnosed in a full medical exam with your primary care physician. After the medical exam, your provider will take a physical exam of the body. He or she will pay close attention to the neck, back or shoulders and test the following:

  • Reflexes
  • Strength of the hands or arms
  • Loss of sensation
  • Ability to walk

Some providers may order diagnostic testing including:

  • X-ray
  • CT scan
  • MRI

Treatments for cervical spondylosis

Treatment for arthritis in the neck depend on the severity of your condition. The overarching goal is to reduce the symptoms and enable you to maintain your lifestyle.

Nonsurgical treatments for cervical spondylosis include:

  • Medications — your provider may prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, oral corticosteroids, muscle relaxants, anti-seizure medications, antidepressants or prescription pain relievers to relieve the pain associated with arthritis in the neck.
  • Physical therapy and rehabilitation — a physical therapist will work with you to strengthen and stretch the muscles in the neck and shoulders.

Surgical treatments for cervical spondylosis:

When conservative treatments for cervical osteoarthritis do not work, surgical intervention may be necessary.

Surgical procedures for arthritis in the neck include:

  • Removing a bone spur or a herniated disc
  • Removing partion of a vertebra
  • Spinal fusion — fusing a segment of the neck together using a small piece of bone from another part of your body and securing it with metal hardware to reduce movement in the joint.

Recovery from cervical spondylosis

It is important to work closely with your doctor when recovering from cervical osteoarthritis treatment. Although you may feel better, it is important to give your body time to heal.

After spine surgery, it will be important to limit activity that applies weight to the spine, limit time sitting still, avoid repetitive bending and twisting movements.

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