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Cervical Spondylosis

 

Cervical Spondylosis - Why does this happen?
  
The cervical spine is made up of 7 vertebrae stacked on top of each other.  The vertebrae have small joints on either side, the facet joints, which allow movement between the vertebrae.  There is a fibrous disc between each vertebrae which act as a shock absorber and allow the spine to be more flexible.  Nerves pass from the spinal cord to the legs through a narrow space between the vertebrae.
 
 
 
  
 

Cervical Spondylosis, osteoarthritis of the spine,   is a degenerative condition which affects the surface of the facet joints and discs. There is a reduction of joint space as the cartilage wears away and the disc becomes thinner.  Bony spurs, osteophytes, grow on the edges of the vertebrae causing the space within the joint to narrow.  The ostephytes can cause pressure on the nerves which pass through the narrow gap between the vertebrae.

Cervical Spondylosis is a common part of the ageing process and can occur from the age of 40+.  Repetitive activities, poor posture and previous injury all contribute to developing Cervical Spondylosis.

 

 

 What are the symptoms?
   
  • Pain in the neck and shoulders and in some cases pain may be felt in the arm or head.
  • Restricted movement in the back, particularly in the morning and after periods of rest.
  • Disturbed sleep due to pain.
  • Pins and needles or loss of sensation in the arm.
  • In more severe cases a weakness in the arm or hand.
  • It is common to experience neck stiffness particularly in the morning.
 
 
Diagnosing Lumbar Spondylosis
 

Your GP or Physiotherapist can usually diagnose Cervical Spondylosis by simply by examining your spine and hearing where the pain is and how it started.

 

X-rays and other tests are not usually necessary

 
 
 
What is the treatment?
 

Pain due to Cervical Spondylosis will usually improve with some simple changes to activity and exercise.  Try to avoid or reduce the activity which aggravates your pain such sitting with your head bent forwards.  Stay active but balance rest with activity.  Avoid sitting for more than 60 minutes at any one time, leave your seat and take a short walk to reduce the stress on the neck.  Review your sitting position to ensure the neck is in a good position.

 

To help reduce the symptoms a ‘hot pack’ can be placed on the painful area for 15 - 20 minutes twice a day.  Wrap the 'hot pack’ in a towel before placing on the painful area to ensure you do not burn the skin.

 

 

During the initial painful stages it is important to manage the pain.  
 
 Painkillers and anti-inflammatory medications  -  These may be prescribed by your GP if the pain is costant.  This is a temporary measure to break the pain cycle, but can continue as required.
 
Exercise  -  Exercise is important to help regain and maintain back movement.  Once the pain has settled it is important to strengthen the surrounding muscles and work on your balance to help reduce stress placed on the spine.  Click here for a list of exercises suitable for Cervical Spondylosis 
 

Posture  -   It is important to reduce the stress on the joints as they heal by ensuring you have a good posture during day to day activities.  Check your sitting posture, particularly when using a computer or reading you should ensure your ears are in line with your shoulders and hips.  Placing a cushion or rolled up towel behind your lower back may help improve your posture and reduce the stress on the spine.  If you work at a computer ensure the screen, keyboard and mouse are positioned to avoid over reaching. Ensure your chair is close to the desk with your back is against it.

 Physiotherapy -   If exercise alone does not improve symptoms then physiotherapy treatment may be required.  A physiotherapist can use specific treatments including, ultrasound, deep friction, massage, interferential, acupuncture or taping to help relieve pain and aid recovery.  Click here for more information about Physiotherapy.

  

Injections  -  In some cases your GP or Consultant may recommend an injection. These can be used to reduce inflammation and pain when the symptoms are severe and constant.  This is not a 'cure' and it is important to follow the exercises and modify activities.  A 'Cortisone Injection' can help reduce inflammation in the joints.

  

Surgery  -  This is not common for Cervical Spondylosis. In some cases when symptoms are persistent surgery may be considered. 
 

 

Red Flags for Neck Pain

(Red Flags are warning signs that further investigation may be required and you should seek urgent medical attention)
 

Weakness in hands and/or arms.

Sudden loss of bladder and/or bowel control.

Electric Shock Sensations down the spine into the limbs, on neck movement.
Loss of balance and motor control.
Severe constant back pain which cannot be relieved by a change of position.
Neckpain following a major trauma.
History of cancer.
Unexplained weight loss.

Fever.

 
Remember an important part of treatment for Cervical Spondylosis are your home exercises and modifying activities.