The cervical spine is commonly referred to as the neck – the first seven vertebrae of the spine. Pain in the neck is a common complaint of ageing people over fifty. The ageing process results in degeneration of the bones. Over time cervical spondylosis may result with the formation of bony spurs. This may lead to compression of the spinal nerves and sometimes even compression of the spinal cord. Also with the ageing process there is often thinning of the discs between the bones leading to a decreased shock absorbing ability of the neck.
Symptoms of cervical spondylosis
• Pain can range from mild to severe
• Pain and stiffness is a chronic condition
• Overtime there may be a large loss of neck motion
• Pain and stiffness is usually worse with upright activity
• There may be arm pain, pins and needles, numbness and weakness if there has beencompression of a spinal nerve
• Muscle spasm in the neck and shoulder region
• Headaches of neck origin
• There may be popping or grinding with movement of the neck
Diagnosis and treatment
Your doctor and physiotherapist can diagnose Cervical spondylosis. In most cases x-rays are done that will show evidence of degeneration. A thorough physical examination will be done by your therapist. This would include identifying the main areas requiring treatment as well as identifying any involvement of the spinal nerves. It is most common for this condition to be treated with physiotherapy and with medication.
Physiotherapy would aim to reduce pain and stiffness. This may involve the use of electrotherapeutic modalities, gentle soft tissue techniques, gentle mobilizations, ice and heat. Your therapist would also provide you with range of motion exercises and neck strengthening exercises. They may also provide you with a soft collar to support your neck. As this condition is not reversible your physiotherapist will educate you in coping with this condition and ways in which to reduce the symptoms in the long term.
In some cases if the pain is not resolved through physiotherapy and medication and/or this is a large neurological (compression of the spinal nerves) involvement then surgery may be required. In any case physiotherapy would be required after surgery to regain full function of the neck.