Cervical spondylosis, also known as osteoarthritis of the neck, is a common degenerative disease that affects millions of people across the globe. It is commonly observed to get more acute with age.
In cervical spondylosis, the discs that form the upper vertebrae start changing, and their ability to cushion the neck starts to deteriorate. These discs are lined by cartilages that suffer the natural wear-and-tear, with age. Although some amount of degeneration of vertebrae is natural, due to aging, some adults suffer from neck pain and stiffness.
Once the cartilage gets worn and the lubrication decreases, rough patches start to develop on the vertebrae. The nerves that are attached to the spinal cord get constricted between the vertebrae on their way out of the spine, resulting in cervical spondylosis.
Cervical Spondylosis Diagnosis and Symptoms
In most cases, early signs of spondylosis aren’t evident, and it starts to show as the individual grows older. Typically, a person suffering from the ailment starts to feel consistent pain and stiffness of their neck. Neck spondylosis symptoms become more evident as the situation worsens. Gradually, the individual is unable to execute day-to-day physical tasks. While the disorder is chronic and cannot be cured, early diagnoses and interventions can prevent further degeneration.
Some of the other cervical spondylosis symptoms include:
- Popping or grinding sound when the head is turned
- Uncoordinated or uneasy walking
Weakness in hands and legs
- Loss of balance while standing or walking
- Spasms in the shoulder/neck muscles
- Not being able to turn your head or bend your neck in any direction
- Severe ankylosing spondylitis headache that may originate at the pain areas of the neck
- Shoulder, arm or neck pain resulting in the immobility of limbs
After initial tests to check spondylosis signs and symptoms, the doctor may refer a neurologist, physiotherapist, or orthopedic surgeon for further diagnostic tests. Some of these include:
1. Physical Examination
First, the physiotherapist or specialist runs physical tests to understand the nature of the damage and decide upon the course of treatment. Physical tests include examining reflexes muscle weakness range of neck movement, pressure, and sensitivity, etc.
2. Imaging Tests
Next comes a series of imaging tests based upon the physical examination. The specialists use some or all of these imaging methods to determine the pain points.
- X-Ray Imaging to check if any bone spurs or abnormal growth of spinal bones are present.
- CT Scan to have clear images of the cervical region
- MRI Scan to check the presence of any pinched nerves
- Myelogram, coupled with CT Scan and x-rays, helps specialists to diagnose cervical spondylosis with myelopathy symptoms and find better images of the affected areas.
3. Nerve Function Tests
- Electromyogram (EMG) tests are used to determine if the nerves in the vertebrae, especially the neck, are functioning normally.
- Nerve Conduction Study is performed to study the signals sent by the nerve endings in our body.
The curative treatment of cervical spondylosis primarily focuses on how to permanently cure the ailment, along with minimizing the damage. Some of the treatments are:
Physiotherapy for cervical spondylosis is an effective method for pain relief, especially in the early stages of the ailment. Taking the assistance of an experienced physiotherapist one can learn exercises for stretching and strengthening muscles of the neck and shoulders. Some exercises also help in maintaining the traction in the joints of the neck, and to minimize pressure on the cervical discs and nerve endings.
The second way is to administer medications. Some of the medicative treatments include:
Muscle relaxants are targeted towards reducing muscle spasms.
Narcotics such as hydrocodone help in providing pain relief instantly.
Nerve medications such as gabapentin/pregabalin help in reducing the pain caused because of nerve damage.
Non-steroidal drugs prescribed by the doctor, such as diclofenac, can reduce the pain caused because of cervical spondylosis.
Q. What is the difference between cervical spondylitis and cervical spondylosis?
Cervical spondylitis symptoms include ailments where individuals develop severe inflammation in the joints of the vertebrae. Whereas in cervical spondylosis, the pain occurs due to the degeneration of the vertebral discs.
Q. Is dizziness a symptom of cervical spondylosis?
In cervical spondylosis symptoms, dizziness comes as one of the common symptoms along with fainting.
Q. What happens if I leave cervical spondylosis untreated?
The condition can worsen if left untreated. The exponential degeneration can lead to bones fusing with each other making the neck stiff and the spine rigid. Furthermore, individuals can lose their mobility.
Q. What are the best treatment methods for cervical spondylosis?
Various medications are available in the market that helps in reducing the pain of cervical spondylosis. Physiotherapy and regular exercise are also helpful. Devices such as neck traction and collars can also prove to be beneficial in cases of mild cervical pain. In certain extreme cases, doctors may advise the patients to undergo surgery.
Dr. Pradeep R Kumar, Senior Consultant Rheumatology, Mazumdar Shaw Medical Center, Bommasandra, Bangalore