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What Is Cervical Spondylosis and Can I Make it Better?
Cervical spondylosis refers to wear and tear of the cervical spine. It begins with stress on the cartilage of the bones and turns into spondylosis, also called cervical osteoarthritis or neck arthritis.
This condition is often age-related. Ninety percent of people over the age of 60 have the condition, even though many never even report experiencing symptoms. On the other end of the spectrum, some people report having severe symptoms, including chronic neck pain and soreness, muscle spasms, and dizziness.
If you're concerned that you might be experiencing cervical spondylosis or one of its derivatives, like cervical spondylotic myelopathy or cervical radiculopathy, consider contacting a healthcare professional or speak with your doctor during your regular physical exam.
Breaking Down Cervical Spondylosis
We are born with 33 vertebrae in our spines: 7 cervical, 12 thoracic, 5 lumbar, 5 frequently-fused sacral and 4 frequently-fused coccygeal vertebrae.
The spinal cord and its nerves run through a gap formed by the vertebrae. The nerves, along with the spinal cord, are the main communicators of the body, sending messages from various parts of the body to the brain.
Between every vertebra is a disc whose job is to help absorb shock. There are three joints between each vertebra. On the front is the intervertebral disc, and on the back, there are two joints that are referred to as facet joints, and it’s super important that you protect them.
As you grow older, the spine starts to undergo degenerative changes, thanks to the wear and tear of life. This mainly starts as you enter your mid-thirties when the discs between your vertebrae become thinner. This is why as you grow older, you seem to shrink. This is due to your discs collapsing and settling into place, and this is what can eventually cause cervical spondylosis.
Common Causes of Cervical Spondylosis
As time passes, your spine experiences decay because of years of daily use. The main causes include degeneration of your discs, herniation of your discs, osteoarthritis, and bone spurs.
As time goes on, the collagen structure of the outer disc changes, reducing the disc’s ability to handle the movement of your back.
After this, the cartilage which protects the facets begins to diminish, which can cause irritation and inflammation to the spinal nerve roots. The cartilage keeps the facet joints from overworking, so without the cartilage, they “override” and begin to move too much which can lead to cervical spondylosis.
The years that wear down our discs can also cause them to break or crack. This break makes the disc bulge and press against the tissue in the surrounding area. The pressure caused by a herniated disc can cause tingling or numbness.
Disc herniation is when a fragment of the disc is pushed out of the annulus -- a tire-link ring that keeps the collagen and water inside the disc enclosed. The spinal canal has a narrow supply of room, which leaves the spinal nerve and herniated disc trying to compensate for the lack of space by pressing on surrounding tissue. When the disc is forced into the surrounding tissue of the spinal nerves, it can be extremely painful.
Although herniated discs can occur anywhere along the spine, they are most often discovered in the lower back, but they can also occur in the neck, which is what leads to cervical spondylosis.
Osteoarthritis is a gradual, long-lasting condition that makes your joints wear down over time, faster than they normally would. The condition occurs when the cartilage that protects the ends of your bones deteriorates, and arthritis of the neck is fairly common.
The Symptoms of Cervical Spondylosis
Although some people who have cervical spondylosis never report having any symptoms, for some, the symptoms are present and even severe.
Neck Pain or Continual Neck Soreness
Your neck consists of bones and ligaments that help support the mobility of your head. Anytime there is an abnormality, inflammation, or injury, this can cause neck pain and soreness. Cervical spondylosis is one of the many conditions that can cause neck pain, so be on the lookout.
Muscle spasms are tightening contractions of your muscles that can feel anywhere from slightly irritating to extremely painful. They can also be called muscle cramps, and they’re not something that you can control.
They can include parts of a muscle or even several muscle groups. The most common areas where muscle spasms occur are the thighs, calves, feet, and hands.
If you have cervical spondylosis, you may end up feeling faint or woozy. You can also feel lightheaded or a loss of balance, or you may experience nausea along with your dizziness.
Problems with Bone Spurs
When joint cartilage of the vertebrae inside the spine begins to deteriorate, bone tissue rubs against other bone tissue, and irregular growths form along the border of the vertebrae. Osteophytes or bone spurs are not uncommon as you grow older. These bone spurs may press on your nerves if you have cervical spondylosis, causing further issues.
Other Possible Symptoms
Other possible symptoms of cervical spondylosis might include issues with bowel control, as well as numbness or stiffness in the neck, arms, and legs. Its impact on the nerves may affect your range of motion, particularly in your arms and shoulder joints. You also may experience shoulder pain or arm pain, along with the expected neck pain.
How Is Cervical Spondylosis Diagnosed?
To be diagnosed with this injury, you'll need to visit a doctor. Depending on the symptoms you're complaining of, you may undergo an x-ray, a CT scan, or even an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) to ensure that this is the problem you're dealing with. Your doctor might also request a myelogram, in which a type of dye is injected into the spinal canal for a clearer image.
Non-Surgical Treatment Options For Cervical Spondylosis
While surgery is certainly a step that many take when dealing with cervical spondylosis, spine surgery obviously comes with a lot of risk factors, and you may not feel that you need it just yet. That said, if you are experiencing spinal cord compression, you may need surgery in order to prevent permanent disability.
Here are some more conservative treatment options that you can try to relieve your symptoms.
Physical therapy is a great option to provide relief from your symptoms. Certain exercises and stretches can help you grow stronger and improve your posture. Just ensure that you're working with a licensed physical therapist because you don't want to accidentally cause more injury.
Ice, Heat, and Massage
If your symptoms are not extremely serious this method may work for you. As a general rule of thumb, ice for no longer than 20 minutes, multiples times throughout your day. You also may find luck alternating between ice and heat to really find relief.
Massaging can relieve a lot of stress and tension build-up, which may be exacerbating your neck pain. That said, massages will be much more effective if done by a professional like a physical therapist rather than done by yourself at home.
Your doctor may also recommend that you take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like Ibuprofen or Naproxen. There's also a chance that they will prescribe a muscle relaxant like Cyclobenzaprine, depending on the level of pain that you're dealing with. Make sure that you take any medications safely and in the manner in which your doctor recommends.
Focus on Your Posture
You can do a lot from home to help manage cervical spondylosis, starting with paying close attention to the way you’re sitting or standing.
Ideally, you won’t be standing or sitting all day — it’s important to find a balance between the two. Whichever position you find yourself in, make sure that you’re checking your posture because slouching can seriously exacerbate that neck pain.
When you are sitting at a laptop, are you straining your neck to see your screen? Are you sitting and reading with your head down in a book? Are you putting all of your weight in one foot as you stand? These all contribute to wear on your spine. Work on maintaining a healthy posture, and you may be able to lessen some of the symptoms caused by spinal spondylosis.
Choosing the Right Chair for Cervical Spondylosis
If you’re looking to improve your posture, but you find that you’re sitting for long hours during the day, whether due to work, gaming, or anything else, we have a solution. The all33 BackStrong chair was designed for ideal posture, and is built with Sit In Motion technology that allows your pelvis to readjust all day to make slouching a memory of the past. Protect your spine from cervical spondylosis and much more with all33 and get the relief that you need.