Over 50 and living with a pain in the neck? You may have cervical spondylotic myelopathy, a condition arising from the wear and tear associated with aging.
So, let’s find out about this condition and see if that pain in the neck isn’t cervical spondylotic myelopathy.
Spinal Cord Compression
As we age, the structures of the spine age with us. The wear and tear on spinal tissue over time sometimes results in a compressed spinal cord.
The spinal cord’s job is to convey information from our nerves to other parts of our bodies. When that job is hindered by spinal cord compression, patients may experience symptoms like weakness and numbness in the arms and hands, difficulties with coordination and balance and pain in the neck.
Degeneration in the structures of the cervical (upper spine) are the cause of cervical spondylotic myelopathy. This degeneration sometimes results in spondylosis or arthritis.
Changes in the Discs
Another part of the aging process associated with the spine is changes in the health of discs (which hold the vertebrae apart, preventing them from rubbing against each other).
These changes result in bulging due to the loss of vertebral height. There’s also an issue of hydration, as discs begin to lose water content, becoming stiffer. This leads to what’s called “settling” or disc collapse.
This process, of course, results in the vertebrae being closer to one another than they should be. In turn, the vertebrae compensate, by growing additional bone. These are known as bone spurs (which are the body’s answer to lost disc height).
The problem with bone spurs is that they exacerbate the stiffening caused by lost water content. Bone spurs may also narrow the space in the spinal canal, which causes compression.
Disc degeneration may also provoke herniations. These occur when the disc contents are pushed against the tough protective disc coating. When the nucleus (contents of the disc) breach the annulus (outer coating), this is herniation. The bulging occasioned by this process can place pressure on nerve roots and/or the spinal cord.
Other causes of cervical spondylotic myelopathy include rheumatoid arthritis in the cervical vertebrae and injury to this area.
Not all cases of CSM may require surgery. Doctors will start with conservative treatments to limit pain and make routine, daily tasks easier.
A soft, cervical collar may be employed, allowing neck muscles to take a break and inhibiting range of motion for the same motive. This device is a short-term treatment, due to the danger of muscle atrophy.
Physical therapy can also be useful for many patients, helping them maintain strength and increasing flexibility, while alleviating pain.
Drug therapy may be employed, focusing on non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and corticosteroids. Alternatively, epidural steroid injections may be used to reduce inflammation in the affected area.
When conservative therapies fail, a discussion will be initiated about surgical options. In fact, most CSM patients eventually opt for surgery. Your doctor will proceed based on your symptoms and the degree to which your spinal cord is impacted.
If you’re living with CSM, contact us for support.