Cervical Spondylotic Myelopathy
Cervical spondylotic myelopathy, sometimes called spinal compression, is a neck condition that commonly occurs in patients over the age of 50 in which the spinal cord compresses or becomes squeezed.
The spinal cord is responsible for transmitting massive amounts of information throughout the body, which means that somebody suffering from spinal compression can experience a wide variety of symptoms, and two cases are rarely the same. Common symptoms include weakness or numbness in the hands and arms, a loss of balance, and neck pain.
Cervical spondylotic myelopathy stems from natural degeneration of the spine as a result of age. The degeneration of the disks within the spine are often called arthritis or spondylosis.
These spinal changes are not abnormal, and will eventually happen in every person. Even if there are no apparent symptoms, nearly 50 percent of people 50 and older have disk degeneration present.
Aside from natural degradation with age, myelopathy can stem from other conditions that cause compression of the spinal cord, and may not be related to disk degeneration.
- Rheumatoid arthritis – Classified as an autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis stems from the immune system attacking tissues in your body, and more specifically, the synovium which is the thin membrane that lines your joints. When the synovium swells, it can cause pain and stiffness, or even destruction of joints in the cervical spine. If this happens, the vertebra can slip and reduce the amount of space available to the spinal cord.
- Injury – An injury to the neck that affects the muscles and ligaments that support the vertebrae can lead to spinal cord compression as well. Common causes of neck injuries include automobile accidents, sports, or falling.
Typically the symptoms of cervical spondylotic myelopathy develop over time and progress on the scale of years, though for some, the condition can progress more rapidly.
Those suffering from cervical spondylotic myelopathy may experience:
- Tingling or numbness in the arms, fingers, or hands.
- Weakness in the muscles of the arms, shoulders, or hands. You may have trouble grasping and holding on to items.
- Imbalance and other coordination problems. You may have trouble walking, or you may fall. With myelopathy, there is no sensation of spinning or “vertigo.” Rather, your head and eyes feel steady, but your body feels unable to follow through with what you are trying to do.
- Loss of fine motor skills. You may have difficulty with handwriting, buttoning your clothes, picking up coins, or feeding yourself.
- Pain or stiffness in the neck.
In less severe cases, symptoms may be treated with nonsurgical means like a soft cervical collar or physical therapy. A cervical collar is a padded ring that wraps around the neck and supports it, allowing the muscles to rest while limiting the range of motion in the neck. Medications may also be used to control pain and improve symptoms, and can range from NSAIDs to narcotics, depending on severity.
If nonsurgical treatments are unsuccessful, your doctor will work with you to determine whether surgery would be effective or not. There are several procedures available, and the one that works for you will depend on a number of factors.