Key Points about Cervical Spondylotic Myelopathy

  • Cervical spondylotic myelopathy is a degenerative disease that occurs over time when changes in the bones, discs, or ligaments in the spine places pressure on the spinal cord.
  • The most common symptoms of cervical spondylotic myelopathy are neck pain and stiffness and reduced range of motion in your neck.
  • Cervical spondylotic myelopathy can be diagnosed during a clinic visit with a physical exam and diagnostic imaging such as X-ray, MRI, or CT scan.
  • Most people experience symptom relief with nonsurgical treatments such as medications, physical therapy, steroid injections, or a cervical collar. Rarely, surgery is needed to treat cervical spondylotic myelopathy.
Common related conditions
Cervical Neuropathy (Radiculopathy) Cervical Osteoarthritis (Arthritis in the Neck) Tethered Cord

Overview

Cervical myelopathy is spinal cord damage in the cervical spine caused by degeneration. Because it affects the spinal cord nerves, it can cause numbness, weakness, or tingling in the arms, hands, or legs.

Cervical spondylotic myelopathy occurs as a normal part of aging. 

If you are experiencing moderate to severe pain in your neck, visit your doctor right away.

Cervical spondylotic myelopathy causes

Cervical spondylotic myelopathy is a degenerative disease that may occur over time as a normal part of the aging process. 

Other causes of cervical spondylotic myelopathy include:

  • Arthritis of the spine.
  • Spinal cord trauma.

Cervical spondylotic myelopathy symptoms

Symptoms of cervical myelopathy include:

  • Neck pain and stiffness.
  • Limited range of motion in your neck.
  • Shooting pain that originates in the neck and travels down the spine.
  • Numbness and weakness in the shoulders, arms, and hands.
  • Poor hand coordination.
  • Inability to handle small objects.
  • Problems balancing.

Cervical spondylotic myelopathy complications

If left untreated, cervical spondylotic myelopathy can worsen and lead to permanent nerve dame, paralysis, or death. You could lose control of your bowels or bladder.

Cervical spondylotic myelopathy risk factors

There are a variety of risk factors that can lead to cervical spondylotic myelopathy, including:

  • Age. In people over 55, cervical spondylotic myelopathy is the most common spinal disorder.
  • Degenerative conditions. Bone spurs, disc bulges, and thickened ligaments can narrow the spinal canal.

Cervical spondylotic myelopathy prevention 

Although cervical spondylotic myelopathy cannot be completely prevented, you can reduce your risk of developing it or slow the progression of the condition by following these guidelines:

  • Stop smoking cigarettes.
  • Maintain a healthy posture.
  • Avoid neck strain such as sitting and looking at a computer all day.

Cervical spondylotic myelopathy diagnosis

Your doctor can diagnose cervical spondylotic myelopathy during a clinic visit. He or she will take a full medical history and perform a thorough medical exam of your neck, shoulders, and arms, looking at your reflexes, numbness, coordination issues, or atrophy.

Your doctor may also order imaging tests such as:

  • X-ray.
  • MRI.
  • CT scan.
  • Myelogram.

Cervical spondylotic myelopathy treatment

The goal of treatment for cervical myelopathy is to alleviate pain and improve a patient’s ability to perform daily activities. Most patients experience symptom relief from nonsurgical treatments alone.

Nonsurgical treatment options for cervical myelopathy include:

  • Cervical collar. A padded ring that is placed around the neck and helps you keep it still.
  • Physical therapy. Strengthening and flexibility exercises can help relieve pain and enable you to perform your daily activities. 
  • Medications. Medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) can often help alleviate your symptoms. 
  • Steroid injections. A corticosteroid injection directly into the spinal cord can reduce inflammation.

When conservative treatments do not adequately relieve your symptoms, you may need surgery.

Surgical treatments for cervical myelopathy include:

  • Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion.
  • Anterior cervical corpectomy.
  • Laminoplasty. Laminoplasty can help widen the spinal canal to help improve neck motion.
  • Spinal fusion. Spinal fusion can stabilize the spine after a herniated disc or bone spur has been removed.

Your doctor will develop a customized treatment plan for your case.

When to Seek Care

Consult with your physician if you are experiencing moderate to severe pain in your neck. Many spinal injuries need immediate care.

Next Steps 

  • Carefully follow your doctor’s treatment plan.
  • Take all medications as prescribed.
  • Do physical therapy exercises outlined by your doctor.
  • Do not smoke and limit alcohol consumption.
  • Be patient during the healing process. Some activities may take more time to perform than before.