Cervical spondylosis

Cervical spondylosis is a term used to describe the changes to the bones (vertebrae), joints and discs of the neck (cervical spine) as a result of aging (disc degeneration). The vertebrae and discs wear down, possibly resulting in pain. Cervical spondylosis is commonly seen in people 55 years of age and older.1

See pictures of the neck and the vertebrae and discs.

As you age, the discs gradually break down and become stiffer. The body reacts to this by developing bony growths (osteophytes). These growths often cause problems. The osteophytes can put pressure on the spinal nerve roots or spinal cord, resulting in pain.

There are often no symptoms. When there are, neck pain and stiffness are the main symptoms. It is usually worse in the morning and gets better throughout the day. You may also have a headache. If the bony growths are pushing against a nerve root or the spinal cord, you may have numbness, tingling, weakness, or an aching, shooting pain in an arm or a leg.

Initial treatment consists of pain relievers, physical therapy, and strengthening and range-of-motion exercises. If this does not work, surgery may be considered to relieve the pressure on the nerve root or spinal cord.

Citations

  1. Aminoff MJ (2008). Mechanical and other lesions of the spine, nerve roots, and spinal cord. In L Goldman, D Ausiello, eds., Cecil Medicine, 23rd ed., pp. 2651–2662. Philadelphia: Saunders.

Last Updated: August 21, 2008

Author: Shannon Erstad, MBA/MPH

Medical Review: William M. Green, MD - Emergency Medicine & Robert B. Keller, MD - Orthopedics

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