What is Cervical Spondylosis: Exploring Symptoms, Causes, and Cure | Max Hospital

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An Introductory Guide to Cervical Spondylosis

By Dr. Sanjeev Dua in Neurosciences

Jun 05 , 2024 | 8 min read


Cervical spondylosis is a condition that occurs as we age and affects the neck area of the spine. It happens when the discs between the neck bones wear down, leading to a variety of symptoms. As the condition can greatly impact the quality of life, it is important for those affected or at risk to understand the intricacies of this disorder, in order to seek timely medical intervention and manage the condition effectively. To help, in this article, we present an introductory guide to cervical spondylosis, covering its definition, symptoms, causes, treatment options, and possible complications. Let’s begin.

What is cervical spondylosis?

Cervical spondylosis, often referred to as neck arthritis, is a condition that affects the neck area of the spine, and typically occurs due to age-related changes in the spinal discs and vertebrae. Over time, the discs between the neck bones may degenerate or wear down, and small bone spurs can develop on the vertebrae. It is a common condition, especially in older adults, and typically develops gradually over time.

What are the symptoms of cervical spondylosis?

The symptoms of cervical spondylosis can vary depending on the severity of the condition and the structures affected. Common symptoms include:

  • Neck pain or stiffness, which may worsen with movement.
  • Pain that radiates to the shoulders or arms.
  • Muscle weakness or numbness in the arms or hands.
  • Tingling or pins-and-needles sensations in the arms or hands.
  • Limited range of motion in the neck.
  • Headaches, particularly in the back of the head.
  • Difficulty walking or maintaining balance (in severe cases).

What are the causes and risk factors for cervical spondylosis?

Cervical spondylosis is primarily caused by age-related changes in the spine, although other factors may also contribute to its development. The main risk factors include:

  • Dehydrated discs: Cervical spondylosis involves the degeneration of spinal discs, which lose moisture and elasticity over time. This dehydration reduces their ability to absorb shock and provide cushioning between the vertebrae, leading to increased friction and potential discomfort.
  • Herniated disks: In some cases of cervical spondylosis, the outer layer of a spinal disc weakens, allowing the gel-like interior to bulge out. This herniation can put pressure on nearby nerves, causing pain, numbness, or weakness in the arms or hands. It may also contribute to inflammation and further degeneration of the affected disc.
  • Bone spurs: As part of the body's response to spinal disc degeneration, small bony growths called bone spurs may form along the edges of the vertebrae. These spurs can impinge on nearby structures, including nerves, spinal cord, or blood vessels, leading to pain, stiffness, and reduced range of motion in the neck.
  • Stiff ligaments: Ligaments are tough bands of tissue that connect bones and provide stability to the spine. In cervical spondylosis, ligaments in the neck may become stiff or less flexible over time, limiting the neck's range of motion and contributing to feelings of stiffness and discomfort. This stiffness can exacerbate symptoms and affect overall neck function.

Other factors that may increase the risk of cervical spondylosis include smoking, obesity, a history of neck injury or trauma, and occupations or activities that involve repetitive neck movements or heavy lifting.

What is cervical spondylosis diagnosed?

Besides medical history assessment and physical examination, the diagnosis of cervical spondylosis may involve:

  • Imaging studies: X-rays, CT scans, or MRI scans may be ordered to visualise the structures of the cervical spine and assess for degenerative changes, such as bone spurs, herniated discs, or narrowing of the spinal canal.
  • Electromyography (EMG): In some cases, electromyography may be performed to assess the electrical activity of muscles and nerves in the neck and arms, helping to determine the extent of nerve involvement and muscle dysfunction.
  • Other tests: Additional tests, such as nerve conduction studies or blood tests, may be ordered to rule out other possible causes of symptoms or to assess for signs of inflammation or infection.

Based on the findings of these tests, healthcare providers can make a diagnosis of cervical spondylosis and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

How is cervical spondylosis treated?

The treatment for cervical spondylosis aims to alleviate symptoms, reduce inflammation, and improve neck function. Treatment options may include:

  • Medications: Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or naproxen, can help reduce pain and inflammation. In some cases, muscle relaxants or prescription medications may be prescribed to alleviate muscle spasms or nerve pain.
  • Physical therapy: A physical therapist can design a customised exercise program to strengthen the muscles supporting the neck, improve flexibility, and enhance posture. Physical therapy may also include manual therapy techniques, such as massage or manipulation, to relieve muscle tension and improve mobility.
  • Heat and cold therapy: Applying heat or cold packs to the neck area may help reduce pain and inflammation. Alternating between heat and cold therapy can provide relief for some individuals.
  • Neck braces or collars: In severe cases or during acute flare-ups, wearing a neck brace or collar may help immobilise the neck and provide support, allowing injured tissues to heal and reducing strain on the neck muscles.
  • Injections: Corticosteroid injections into the affected area of the neck can help reduce inflammation and alleviate pain. These injections are typically performed under guidance using imaging techniques such as fluoroscopy.
  • Surgery: In rare cases where conservative treatments are ineffective or symptoms are severe, surgery may be considered. Surgical options may include removing bone spurs, decompressing pinched nerves, or stabilising the spine with fusion surgery.
  • Lifestyle modifications: Adopting healthy lifestyle habits, such as maintaining good posture, avoiding activities that strain the neck, quitting smoking, and maintaining a healthy weight, can help manage symptoms and prevent further degeneration of the cervical spine.

What are the complications of cervical spondylosis?

Cervical spondylosis can lead to various complications, particularly if the condition progresses or is left untreated. Potential complications of cervical spondylosis include:

  • Nerve compression: Bone spurs or herniated discs in the cervical spine can compress nearby spinal nerves, leading to symptoms such as pain, weakness, numbness, or tingling in the arms, hands, or fingers. Severe nerve compression can cause muscle weakness, loss of coordination, or difficulty with fine motor skills.
  • Cervical radiculopathy: This condition occurs when a spinal nerve root in the neck becomes irritated or compressed, resulting in pain, numbness, or weakness that radiates down the arm and into the hand.
  • Myelopathy: Severe compression of the spinal cord in the cervical spine can lead to myelopathy, a condition characterised by progressive neurological deficits such as difficulty walking, coordination problems, weakness, and loss of bladder or bowel control.
  • Degenerative disc disease: Cervical spondylosis can contribute to the degeneration of spinal discs, leading to chronic neck pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility. In some cases, degenerative disc disease may require surgical intervention to alleviate symptoms and restore function.
  • Spinal stenosis: Narrowing of the spinal canal in the cervical spine, often due to bone spurs or herniated discs, can lead to spinal stenosis. This condition can cause compression of the spinal cord or nerve roots, resulting in symptoms such as pain, numbness, weakness, or difficulty walking.
  • Loss of neck function: As cervical spondylosis progresses, stiffness, pain, and reduced mobility in the neck can affect daily activities and quality of life. Severe cases may lead to limitations in neck movement and difficulty performing tasks that require turning or tilting the head.
  • Permanent nerve damage: Prolonged compression or irritation of spinal nerves can lead to permanent nerve damage, resulting in chronic pain, weakness, or sensory disturbances in the affected areas.

Other Commonly Asked Questions about Cervical Spondylosis

Can cervical spondylosis be prevented?

While cervical spondylosis is primarily an age-related condition, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, practising good posture, avoiding excessive neck strain, and quitting smoking may help reduce the risk or delay the onset of cervical spondylosis.

Can cervical spondylosis be cured?

Cervical spondylosis currently has no known cure. However, various treatment options are available to manage symptoms, improve neck function, and enhance quality of life.

What activities should be avoided with cervical spondylosis?

Individuals with cervical spondylosis may benefit from avoiding activities that strain the neck, such as heavy lifting, repetitive neck movements, or prolonged periods of poor posture. It's important to listen to your body and avoid activities that exacerbate symptoms.

Can cervical spondylosis lead to permanent disability?

While cervical spondylosis can cause significant pain and discomfort, it rarely leads to permanent disability. With appropriate treatment and lifestyle modifications, many individuals with cervical spondylosis can manage their symptoms effectively and maintain a good quality of life.

Does cervical spondylosis affect sleep?

Yes, cervical spondylosis can sometimes affect sleep quality due to pain, stiffness, or discomfort in the neck area. Using supportive pillows, practising relaxation techniques, and adopting sleep-friendly habits may help improve sleep in individuals with cervical spondylosis.

Is cervical spondylosis hereditary?

While there may be a genetic predisposition to developing cervical spondylosis, the condition is primarily associated with age-related degenerative changes in the spine. Having a family history of cervical spondylosis may increase the risk, but it does not guarantee that an individual will develop the condition.

Is cervical spondylosis the same as cervical radiculopathy?

No, cervical spondylosis and cervical radiculopathy are related but distinct conditions. Cervical spondylosis refers to degenerative changes in the cervical spine, while cervical radiculopathy involves irritation or compression of a nerve root in the neck, leading to symptoms such as pain, numbness, or weakness that radiate down the arm and into the hand.

Does cervical spondylosis increase the risk of neck injuries?

While cervical spondylosis itself does not necessarily increase the risk of neck injuries, the degenerative changes in the cervical spine can make the neck more vulnerable to injury from trauma or accidents.

Final words

Understanding cervical spondylosis and its potential impact on health is crucial for effective management and improving quality of life. While cervical spondylosis is a common condition, seeking timely evaluation and treatment from a qualified healthcare provider is essential for accurate diagnosis and personalised care. At Max Hospitals, our team of experienced specialists is dedicated to providing comprehensive care for individuals with cervical spondylosis, offering advanced diagnostic techniques, innovative treatment options, and compassionate support every step of the way. Don't hesitate to schedule a consultation with our experts. We're here to help you find relief and regain control of your life.