Neck pain is extremely common. It can be caused by many things, and is most often related to getting older.
Like the rest of the body, the bones in the neck (cervical spine) slowly degenerate as we age. This frequently results in arthritis. Arthritis of the neck is called cervical spondylosis.
Cervical spondylosis is the degeneration of the joints in the neck. It becomes increasingly more common as people age. More than 85% of people over age 60 are affected.
Although it is a form of arthritis, cervical spondylosis rarely becomes a crippling or disabling type.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Cervical spondylosis is caused by chronic wear on the cervical spine. This includes the disks or cushions between the neck vertebrae and the joints between the bones of the cervical spine. There may be abnormal growths or “spurs” on the bones of the spine (vertebrae).
These changes can, over time, press down on (compress) one or more of the nerve roots. In advanced cases, the spinal cord becomes involved. This can affect not just the arms, but the legs as well.
Everyday wear and tear may start these changes. People who are very active at work or in sports may be more likely to have them.
The major risk factor is aging. By age 60, most women and men show signs of cervical spondylosis on x-ray. Other factors that can make a person more likely to develop spondylosis are:
- Being overweight and not exercising
- Having a job that requires heavy lifting or a lot of bending and twisting
- Past neck injury (often several years before)
- Past spine surgery
- Ruptured or slipped disk
- Severe arthritis
- Small fractures to the spine from osteoporosis
Pain from cervical spondylosis can be mild to severe. It is sometimes worsened by looking up or down for a long time, or with activities such as driving or reading a book. It also feels better with rest or lying down.
Additional symptoms include:
- Neck pain and stiffness (may be worse with activity)
- Numbness and weakness in arms, hands, and fingers
- Trouble walking, loss of balance, or weakness in hands or legs
- Muscle spasms in neck and shoulders
- Grinding and popping sound/feeling in neck with movement
Most patients with cervical spondylosis will have some long-term symptoms. These symptoms will often get worse and then improve. However, symptoms should improve with treatment and do not need surgery.
Many people with this problem are able to maintain active lives. However, some patients will have to live with chronic pain.
- Inability to hold in feces (fecal incontinence) or urine (urinary incontinence)
- Loss of muscle function or feeling
- Permanent disability (occasionally)
- Poor balance
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call us if:
- The condition becomes worse
- There are signs of complications
- You develop new symptoms (such as loss of movement or feeling in an area of the body)
- You lose control of your bladder or bowels (call right away)
Seek professional treatment now!
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