Cervical Spondylosis: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatments

Cervical spondylosis is also known as neck arthritis or cervical osteoarthritis. It is a condition which is associated with a change in the bones, joints, and discs. The changes come about due to the normal tearing and wearing in old age. The disks in the neck region dehydrate and shrink causing the development of cervical spondylosis.

There are various signs and symptoms associated with the disease. Some of these symptoms include bony projections along the bones, lack of proper body and movement coordination and loss of the control of the bladder or the bowel. This condition is most common in the elderly. As one age, the disks found around the neck usually dehydrate, lose their firm and break down and become stiffer. Those over the ages of 60 years are at a greater risk of developing the condition. This disease may develop in other people without them even realizing since it does not show signs and symptoms most times. The disease can also affect people who are middle-aged.

Cervical spondylosis leads to the development of osteophytes. These are abnormal growths on the bones of the neck.  There are various methods of treating cervical spondylosis and each method depends on how far the disease has progressed in the bones. The stiffness and pain in the neck can be relieved through exercises. It is normal for humans to experience degenerative changes around the neck as they age. Most people who are affected by degeneration usually show no signs and symptoms and do not experience any pain, therefore, it is not necessary for the condition to be treated. However in severe cases, the disease is associated with the presence of pain in the limbs, loss of feeling and body coordination and difficulties in movements especially walking. The disease is not fatal and one can live a normal life when diagnosed with the disease. Those suffering from severe cases can also be treated and go back to their daily routines without any problems.

Causes of Cervical Spondylosis:

  • Cervical spondylosis is mainly associated with ageing. This results in long-term degeneration, wearing, and tearing of the cervical spine.
  • If a person had a severe injury to the neck, the injury may lead to wearing and tearing of the neck bones leading to the development of cervical spondylosis.
  • Studies have also indicated that the disease is likely to occur to those coming from families associated with the condition. Therefore, genetic factors could be a likely cause of cervical spondylosis.
  • Smoking of cigarette is also associated with the occurrence of cervical spondylosis. Cigarette smoke tends to dehydrate the bones found in the neck region. These bones finally wear and tear and degenerate leading to the development of the disease.
  • The condition also occurs in those over the ages of 40 years and above. This is most common to men as compared to women in the same age brackets.

Cervical spondylosis is also caused by long-term tasks or activities that cause a lot of pressure on the bones of the neck, for example, carrying loads that are heavy, those practising martial arts, construction workers, being professional gymnasts or dancers.

Bone spurs can also result in cervical spondylosis. These are an extra growth of bones in the neck to maintain the strength of the spine or make it stronger. These bones, however, may lead to degeneration, wearing and tearing of the delicate spinal areas leading to the condition.

The bones in the spine have a disk to absorb shock from various sources like lifting or twisting. The absorption of shock by these discs is made possible by the presence of a thick gel-like cushion. As time goes, this gel-like substance can dry out making the spinal disks to be dehydrated, rub together and cause pain. This rubbing together of the spinal disks can cause wearing and tearing leading to the development of cervical spondylosis.

The ligaments connecting the spinal bones can become stiff and tougher over some time. It affects the movement of the neck and makes them tight. As one moves the neck the bones wear and tear causing pain and the development of cervical spondylosis.

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Risk Factors of Cervical Spondylosis:

Anyone can suffer from cervical spondylosis. However, there are other people who are at a higher risk of developing this condition as compared to others.

These group of people includes the following:

  • Those over the ages of 65 years and above are likely to suffer from the condition. In some cases, it could be dormant leading to no pain or symptoms.
  • Those who have had a severe injury to their necks or the spine are at a higher risk of developing the condition. The injury may progress to cause pain in the neck due to the wearing and tearing of the neck and spinal bones.
  • Those whose hobbies or occupations involve the exertion of a lot of pressure on the neck and spinal regions are at a greater risk of suffering from the disease. It is caused by the excess pressure on the spine that leads to the wearing and tearing of the spinal bones.
  • Repetitive stress can cause the occurrence of cervical spondylosis. Those who hold their necks in the same position over a long period of time or those repeating the same movements throughout the day have high chances of developing this condition.
  • Those people who come from a family with a history of cervical spondylosis are also at a risk of being affected by the condition in their lifetime not necessarily at old age.
  • Cigarette smokers are at a very high risk of suffering from cervical spondylosis. This is as a result of the smoke coming from the cigarette. This smoke dehydrates the discs in the neck leading to degeneration that causes the wearing and tearing effects in the neck regions leading to the development of cervical sclerosis.
  • Those who are obese or overweight and also inactive are at a higher risk of developing cervical spondylosis. The extra weight in the body causes a lot of pressure in the spinal bones leading to the wearing and tearing of these bones causing pain. This may also develop into cervical spondylosis.
  • Studies and research have shown that men over 40 years of age are at a greater risk of suffering from the condition as compared to their female counterparts of the same age bracket.
  • Past spine injury can progressively develop and dehydrate the disks of the spinal bones leading to cervical spondylosis.
  • Severe arthritis can affect the spinal bones, wear, tear and dehydrate them leading to the development of cervical spondylosis.
  • Fractures in the spine resulting from osteoporosis can cause the development of cervical spondylosis.

Symptoms of Cervical Spondylosis:

Most people suffering from the condition rarely experience any pain or show any symptoms but some people can be severely affected. The signs and symptoms that are concerned with the development of cervical spondylosis include the following:

  • Pain along the arms, fingers, and around the shoulder blade.
  • People also complain of hardships in lifting their hands, legs and even firmly grabbing objects. This arises due to the weakness in the muscles.
  • Patients diagnosed with cervical spondylosis usually tend to complain of experiencing a stiff in the neck region that gets worse over time.
  • People diagnosed with this condition usually experience periods of headaches that are mostly around the back of the head.
  • The legs, shoulders, arms, and fingers might be associated with numbness or a tingling feeling.
  • The patient may complain of also losing balance sometimes, though not as often.
  • Those diagnosed with cervical spondylosis sometimes, not as often, experience inability to control their bowels.
  • Patients also complain of lack of coordination and difficulty in walking.
  • There is usually a grinding noise or sensation when the neck is turned.

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Diagnosis of Cervical Spondylosis:

There is no direct way of diagnosing cervical spondylosis. However, there are a number of methods that can be used to come into conclusion that a person is suffering from cervical spondylosis.

  • When you consult a doctor , a physical test is usually done on you. The physical test includes checking the range of motions in your neck, checking on the presence of pressure in your spinal nerves by testing your reflexes and muscle strengths, watching your movements to determine whether spinal compression is affecting your movement.
  • For detailed information on the signs and symptoms experienced and to diagnose the disease, imaging tests are used. A neck X-ray can show abnormalities in the neck, caused by bone spurs. CT scan can also be used to provide more detailed information on the condition of the spinal bones as compared to the information displayed by X-rays. The doctor can also recommend an MRI test to be conducted in case he/ she is not sure with the results displayed by the CT scan. An MRI scan will clearly show the areas of the bones which are degenerated and worn out. Myelography is also used to help the CT scan bring out more visible and accurate images.
  • To determine whether nerve signals are travelling as supposed to the muscles, nerve function tests are recommended. These tests include EMG Test or Electromyography test. The test assists in measuring the electrical activities of the nerves when they are contracting or at rest. The second nerve function test is done by carrying out a nerve conduction study. This is done by attaching electrodes on the skin of the patient and then measuring the strength and speed of the nerve signals.

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Differential Diagnosis of Cervical Spondylosis:

During the diagnosis of cervical spondylosis, other diseases with the same signs and symptoms are also considered in order to properly diagnose a patient with cervical spondylosis.

During the differential diagnosis of cervical spondylosis, spinal sepsis is also considered. This is because the two diseases are both have similar signs and symptoms including the presence of fever, loss of control of the bladder and the bowels and a sudden onset of pain. However, spinal sepsis is singled out from cervical spondylosis through conduction of laboratory evaluation.

When diagnosing for the presence of cervical spondylosis, Pan Coast tumours are also considered. This is because both of the two diseases generate similar signs and symptoms including the presence of fatigue, chest, arms, and face pain, weakness and pain in the shoulder blade. In most cases, Pan Coast tumours lead to the development of lung cancer while cervical spondylosis is not associated with any form of cancer. A simple bronchoscopy can be carried out to differentiate the two.

Treatment of Cervical Spondylosis

There is no direct mechanism to determine the presence of cervical spondylosis. The treatment administered by doctors mainly focuses on reducing pain, help the patient lead a normal life and lower the risk of experiencing a permanent damage.

When treating cervical spondylosis, various medications are administered they include drugs helping the muscles to relax, narcotics for the relief of pain, anti-elliptic drugs that relieve, to some extent, the pain that occurs due to damage of the nerves, steroid injections to lessen pain.

In severe cases, the patients undergo surgery to get rid of the bone spurs giving the spinal cord and nerves more room.

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Myths Related to Cervical  Spondylosis

The myths associated with the development of cervical spondylosis include:

Myth #1: Cervical spondylosis is cancerous

This is not true. Cancer is associated with an overgrowth of the body cells while cervical spondylosis causes degeneration, i.e., wearing and tearing and dehydration of the spinal bones.

Myth #2: Cervical spondylosis is fatal

This is not true. In most cases, people suffering from the condition do not feel any pain whatsoever. There are also no signs and symptoms indicated by the disease, therefore, a person lives a normal life. Cervical spondylosis is not fatal at all. It can also be managed in extreme cases.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1) Is the condition painful?

Ans: In a majority of the cases, the condition rarely shows any signs and symptoms. It is also rarely associated with any form of pain. Severe cases, however, tend to be painful.

2) Can the patients undergo therapy?

Ans: Yes. Physical therapy can be helpful in stretching of the neck and shoulder muscles. It also helps in relieving pressure on the cervical disks.

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Last updated on : 24-12-2018

Disclaimer : Docprime doesn’t endorse or take any guarantee of the accuracy or completeness of information provided under this article and these are the views strictly of the writer. Docprime shall not be held responsible for any aspect of healthcare services administered with the information provided on this article.

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