Cervical Myelopathy: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Learn Everything You Need to Know About Cervical Myelopathy

As you age, your body goes through changes. Sometimes, without a direct instance of injury, parts of your body wear down, causing structural changes that lead to pain. Two degenerative disorders may impact the cervical spine, in particular: spondylosis, the degeneration of the intervertebral discs and facet joints, and myelopathy, the compression of the spinal cord. Untreated myelopathy may actually trigger spondylosis, and vice versa, causing faster deterioration of the cervical spine. But what exactly are the symptoms of cervical myelopathy, and how is this condition treated?

Learning the answers to these questions can help you recognize the early signs of disease development. By identifying your symptoms, you can then schedule a visit with a spine specialist before the condition worsens. At Rothman Orthopaedic Institute, our experienced orthopaedic doctors and surgeons believe educating patients is one the best methods for injury prevention. Below, you will find everything you need to know about cervical myelopathy and how it impacts the spine.

Anatomy, Causes, and Symptoms

Your spinal column consists of over 30 small bones called vertebrae. Each vertebra has a hole. When the vertebrae are all aligned properly, the holes create a protective channel for the spinal cord. This channel, along with intervertebral discs, ligaments, and tendons, supports the spine and allows the rest of the body to move without friction.

There are four regions of the spine in total: the cervical or neck region (with vertebrae labeled C1-C7), thoracic or upper back region (T1-T12), lumbar or lower back region (L1-L5), and the fused bones at the base of the spine known as the sacrum and coccyx. Disorders and degenerative diseases may impact any of these regions of the spine.

While age is the most probable cause of cervical myelopathy in patients, some other spine conditions may contribute to spinal cord compression:

  • Herniated cervical disc. A herniated disc may bulge abnormally or rupture painfully. This may result in pressure on spinal cord or nerve roots.

  • Rheumatoid arthritis. This is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in the joint membrane called the synovium. This inflammation can eventually destroy the facet joints in the cervical spine and cause unnatural movement of the vertebrae.

  • Trauma. A sudden injury, such as a car accident or sports collision, can cause the hyperextension of the neck, which can compress the spinal cord.

Patients with cervical myelopathy typically have some combination of the following symptoms:

  • Numbness and tingling in their arms, fingers, or hands

  • Muscle weakness that causes difficulty grasping and holding objects

  • Pain and stiffness in the neck

  • Coordination issues (i.e., difficulty walking in a straight line)

  • Inability to access fine motor skills to write, button clothes, etc.

How Spine Specialists Treat Cervical Myelopathy

When patients come in with the above symptoms, a spine doctor will conduct a physical examination. She or he will search for reflex changes, atrophy, difficulty performing a walking test, and numbness in the arms and hands. Imaging tests, such as an MRI or CT scan, can better illuminate the extent of tissue damage and spinal cord compression affecting the patient.

Mild cases of cervical myelopathy may only require conservative treatment to reduce symptoms. One possible, non-surgical treatment includes engagement in a physical therapy program, focused on strengthening and stretching the neck. Other options are taking prescribed medications and using a soft cervical collar for a short period of time. This cushioned collar wraps around the neck and limits neck motion.

If conservative treatment methods fail to provide the patient with relief, a spine doctor will determine if a surgical procedure can address structural problems in order to improve pain. This decision will vary depending on the patient’s specific symptoms and where exactly the spinal cord is compressed. Surgical options for spine disorders are always last-resort choices.

Cervical Myelopathy Symptoms? Schedule an Appointment

Remember: do not self-diagnose. It can be tempting when your symptoms match a disease that you read about online (like here). However, you should always seek the opinion of a medical expert rather than determine for yourself what treatments to experiment with. A professional spine specialist can provide you with a clear diagnosis and thorough details about your condition. From your first appointment to your last, your orthopaedic doctor will support your physical and mental health as you navigate your treatment options together.

The specialists at Rothman Orthopaedic Institute are ready to see you in our New York City or Tarrytown office. For more information about cervical myelopathy causes and symptoms, or to make an appointment now, please visit us here or contact us at 1-800-321-9999.

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