Cervical Spondylosis: Definition, Symptoms, Treatment

Cervical Spondylosis: Definition, Symptoms, Treatment

“Cervical spondylosis,” sometimes called arthritis of the neck, is a general term for wear and tear that affects your cervical spine. If you have cervical spondylosis, your neck may ache, hurt or feel stiff. Healthcare providers can’t cure cervical spondylosis, but they can keep it from getting worse. Just as important, there are things you can do to protect your neck.

What is cervical spondylosis?

“Cervical spondylosis” is a general term for wear and tear that affects your cervical spine. Cervical refers to seven stacked bones (vertebrae) in your neck. Spondylosis is when parts of your spine begin to wear out. Healthcare providers sometimes call it osteoarthritis of the neck or arthritis of the neck.

If you have cervical spondylosis, your neck may ache, hurt or feel stiff. Healthcare providers can’t cure cervical spondylosis, but they can keep it from getting worse.

How common is cervical spondylosis?

It’s very common and a natural consequence of growing older. As we age, our spines start to change and wear out. This usually happens when people are in their 30s. By age 60, about 9 in 10 people have cervical spondylosis.

Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of cervical spondylosis?

You can have cervical spondylosis without symptoms. If you do have symptoms, they may include:

  • Neck pain.
  • Stiff neck.
  • A bump or knot in your neck.
  • Muscle spasms.
  • A clicking, popping or grinding sound when you move your neck.
  • Dizziness.
  • Headache.

What causes cervical spondylosis?

The most common cause is changes in your spine that happen as you age. Changes may include medical conditions, including:

  • Degenerative disk disease.
  • Herniated disk.
  • Osteoarthritis.
  • Bone spurs (osteophytes).
  • Spinal stenosis.

What triggers cervical spondylosis?

Cervical spondylosis happens over time. Triggers or risk factors include:

  • Being 60 or older.
  • Smoking.
  • Doing work that requires you to spend hours every day looking up or down.
  • Straining your neck to lift heavy objects.
  • Having a family history of cervical spondylosis.
  • Having a history of neck injury.

What are the complications of this condition?

Cervical spondylosis increases your risk of developing:

  • Cervical myelopathy: This is when something compresses (squeezes) the spinal cord in your neck.
  • Cervical radiculopathy: This is a pinched nerve in your neck.

Can cervical spondylosis affect my brain?

No, it can’t. Cervical spondylosis just affects the disks in your spine, which can make your neck hurt or feel stiff.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is cervical spondylosis diagnosed?

A healthcare provider will do a physical examination, including looking for bumps or knots in your neck. They may check your:

  • Neck flexibility.
  • Muscle strength and reflexes in your hands, arms or legs.
  • Reflexes.
  • Gait (how you walk).

What tests help diagnose cervical spondylosis?

Your provider may do the following tests to get detailed images or pictures of your spine and check on your skeletal muscles and nerves. Tests may include:

  • X-ray.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan.
  • Myelogram.
  • Electromyography (EMG).
  • Nerve conduction study.

Management and Treatment

What is the best treatment for cervical spondylosis?

The best treatment is one that helps ease your symptoms. In general, healthcare providers start cervical spondylosis treatment with noninvasive, conservative treatments. For example, they may recommend:

  • Physical therapy.
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers.
  • Placing ice or applying heat to your neck for 15 minutes several times during the day.
  • Soft collar or brace.

If you have significant neck pain, your provider may recommend treatments like cervical epidural steroid injection or radiofrequency ablation.

If these treatments don’t help or your condition is a complication of cervical myelopathy or cervical radiculopathy, your provider may recommend spinal fusion surgery.

What are the treatment side effects?

Conservative treatments rarely cause side effects. Treatments like spinal fusion surgery, steroid injections or radiofrequency ablation have different side effects. Your healthcare provider will explain what you can expect, including any treatment side effects and complications.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have cervical spondylosis?

This is a chronic condition, which means there’s no cure. But there are ways to treat cervical spondylosis so its symptoms don’t affect your quality of life.

Living With

How do I take care of myself?

Most of the time, cervical spondylosis is a side effect of growing older. You can take care of your neck by:

  • Taking regular breaks from activities that put strain on your neck, like spending hours looking down, looking up or holding your neck in an awkward or uncomfortable position.
  • Asking your provider about exercises to stretch and strengthen your neck muscles.
  • Treating mild neck pain with rest, ice or heat and over-the-counter pain medication.

When should I see my healthcare provider?

Contact a healthcare provider if you have neck pain or stiffness that doesn’t go away after a few days. You should also contact your provider if you’re receiving treatment for cervical spondylosis and your symptoms don’t go away or get worse.

When should I go to the ER?

Sometimes, severe neck pain along with the following symptoms may be signs of a serious medical issue. Seek medical attention right away if you have:

  • Neck pain that’s getting worse.
  • Numbness or tingling in your arms.
  • Trouble with coordination or walking.
  • Muscle weakness or heaviness in your arms or legs.
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control.

What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?

You may want to ask the following questions:

  • Why does my neck hurt?
  • Is my neck pain a symptom of a serious medical condition?
  • What are the treatments for neck pain?
  • Will I need surgery?
  • Will my neck pain go away?


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