Cervical spondylosis, also called cervical osteoarthritis, refers to the degeneration of the discs and joints in the neck region usually as a result of aging. It can produce neck stiffness, and mild to severe pain in the neck. In cases where the arthritis is causing pressure on the spinal cord or nerves, the pain may radiate to the shoulders and arms. There may also be tingling or numbness in the shoulders and arms, or pain in the back of the head. Symptoms may be gradual or sudden in onset.
Aging can cause changes in the cervical spine: the cartilage may start to shrink and dry up, the outer layer may weaken causing a bulging or herniation of the inner layer to the outside and the neck bones may develop growths (spurs). All of these changes may compress nerve roots that exit and enter your cervical spine, affecting the transmission of signals. Cervical spondylosis may also be the result of poor posture, work-related stress, smoking, being overweight, repetitive neck movements or injury.
To diagnose cervical spondylosis, your doctor will review your medical history and perform a physical examination, testing the range of motion and strength of your neck. Your doctor will also perform a neurological exam to check the function of your spinal cord and nerves. Imaging tests (X-ray, MRI and CT scans) and neurological tests (to evaluate functioning of nerves) may be ordered to confirm the diagnosis.
Cervical spondylosis in the absence of pressure on the spinal cord is usually managed by nonsurgical methods. Your doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants, and administer steroid injections. Physical therapy and traction may be recommended. Surgery is the last choice and is indicated only if conservative treatments have failed to relieve the symptoms.