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Cervical spondylosis

Cervical spondylosis is a general term for age-related wear and tear affecting the spinal disks in your neck. As the disks dehydrate and shrink, bone spurs and other signs of osteoarthritis develop.

Cervical spondylosis is very common and worsens with age. There also appears to be a genetic component involved because some families will have more of these changes over time, while other families will develop less.

More than 90 percent of people older than age 65 have evidence of cervical spondylosis and osteoarthritis that can be seen on neck X-rays. Most of these people experience no symptoms from these problems. When symptoms do occur, nonsurgical treatments often are effective.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications

In most cases, cervical spondylosis causes no symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they typically affect only the neck — causing pain and stiffness.

Sometimes, cervical spondylosis results in a narrowing of the space needed by the spinal cord and the nerve roots that originate at the spinal cord and pass through the spine to the rest of your body. If the spinal cord or nerve roots become pinched, you may experience:

  • Tingling, numbness and weakness in your arms, hands, legs or feet
  • Lack of coordination and difficulty walking
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control

When to see a doctor

Seek medical attention if you notice sudden onset of numbness or weakness, or loss of bladder or bowel control.

As you age, the bones and cartilage that make up your backbone and neck gradually develop wear and tear. These changes may include:

  • Dehydrated disks. Disks act like cushions between the vertebrae of your spine. By the age of 40, most people's spinal disks begin drying out and shrinking, which allows more bone-on-bone contact between the vertebrae.
  • Herniated disks. Age also affects the exterior of your spinal disks. Cracks often appear, leading to bulging or herniated disks — which sometimes can press on the spinal cord and nerve roots.
  • Bone spurs. Disk degeneration often results in the spine producing extra amounts of bone, sometimes called bone spurs, in a misguided effort to shore up the spine's strength. These bone spurs can sometimes pinch the spinal cord and nerve roots.
  • Stiff ligaments. Ligaments are cords of tissue that connect bone to bone. Increasing age can make spinal ligaments stiffen and calcify, making your neck less flexible.

Risk factors for cervical spondylosis include:

  • Age. Cervical spondylosis is a normal part of aging. Spinal disks tend to dehydrate and shrink with the passing years.
  • Occupation. Certain jobs may place extra stress on your neck. This may include repetitive neck motions, awkward positioning or a lot of overhead work.
  • Neck injuries. Previous neck injuries appear to increase the risk of cervical spondylosis.
  • Genetic factors. Some families will have more of these changes over time, while other families will develop less.

If your spinal cord or nerve roots become severely compressed as a result of cervical spondylosis, the damage can be permanent.

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