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Cervical spondylosis

Contents of this page:


Skeletal spine
Skeletal spine
Cervical spondylosis
Cervical spondylosis

Alternative Names    Return to top

Cervical osteoarthritis; Arthritis - neck; Neck arthritis

Definition    Return to top

Cervical spondylosis is a disorder caused by abnormal wear on the cartilage and bones of the neck (cervical vertebrae). The tissue wears away (degeneration) and mineral deposits form in the cushions between the vertebrae (cervical disks).

Causes    Return to top

Cervical spondylosis is caused by chronic wearing away (degeneration) of the cervical spine, including the cushions between the neck vertebrae (cervical disks) and the joints between the bones of the cervical spine. There may be abnormal growths or "spurs" on the the bones of the spine (vertebrae).

These changes caused by degeneration can over time press down on (compress) one or more of the nerve roots. In advanced cases, the spinal cord becomes involved. This can affect not just the arms, but the legs as well.

A previous neck injury (which may have occurred several years before) can make a person more likely to develop spondylosis, but the major risk factor is aging. By age 60, 70% of women and 85% of men show signs of cervical spondylosis on x-ray.

Symptoms    Return to top

Exams and Tests    Return to top

Examination often shows limited ability to bend the head toward the shoulder and rotate the head.

Weakness or loss of sensation can be signs of damage to specific nerve roots or to the spinal cord. Reflexes are often reduced.

The following tests may be done:

Treatment    Return to top

The goal of treatment to relieve pain and prevent permanent spinal cord and nerve root injury.

In mild cases, no treatment is required. Symptoms from cervical spondylosis usually stabilize or get better with simple, conservative therapy, including:

Periods of neck traction may be recommended, but this therapy has not been found to be helpful most of the time.

Severe cases may need hospitalization with complete bedrest and traction for 1 or 2 weeks. Narcotic medicine or muscle relaxants may help to reduce pain. Surgical decompression of the spinal cord in the neck may be recommended for severe pain or significant loss of movement, sensation, or function.

Surgical procedures may remove bone and disk tissue that is pressing on the nerves of the spinal cord, or stabilize the neck by fusing the cervical vertebrae.

Outlook (Prognosis)    Return to top

Most patients with cervical spondylosis will have some long-term symptoms. However, they respond to non-surgical treatments and do not need surgery.

Possible Complications    Return to top

When to Contact a Medical Professional    Return to top

Try home treatments, such as the use of a cervical collar (which you can buy at pharmacies) and over-the-counter pain medications.

Call your health care provider if:

Prevention    Return to top

Many cases are not preventable. Preventing neck injury (such as by using proper equipment and techniques when playing sports) may reduce your risk.

References    Return to top

Feske SK, Cochrane TL. Degenerative and compressive structural disorders. In: Goetz CG. Goetz: Textbook of Clinical Neurology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007: chap 29.

Polston DW. Cervical radiculopathy. Neurol Clin. 2007;25:373-385.

Update Date: 5/5/2008

Updated by: Andrew L. Chen, MD, MS, Orthopedic Surgery and Sports Medicine, The Alpine Clinic, Littleton, NH. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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