Cervical spondylosis 

Introduction 

Cervical spondylosis is an age-related condition that can cause stiffness and pain in the neck  

The cervical spine

The top section of the spine, known as the cervical spine, runs from the base of the skull and down through the neck.

The cervical spine is made up of:

  • vertebrae – wedge-shaped sections of bone
  • discs – protective, circular pads of tissue found between each vertebrae
  • ligaments – cords of tissue that connect one bone to another

In addition, a bundle of nerves runs through a tunnel within the spine (the spinal cord). 

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Cervical spondylosis is the medical term for neck pain caused by age-related ‘wear and tear’  to bones and tissues.

The most common symptoms of cervical spondylosis are neck pain, stiffness and headaches. More rarely, it can trap nerves in the neck, leading to:

  • pain radiating from the arms
  • pins and needles in the arms and legs
  • loss of feeling in your hands and legs
  • loss of co-ordination and difficulty walking

However, many people with cervical spondylosis experience no noticeable symptoms.

Read more about the symptoms of cervical spondylosis.

Treating cervical spondylosis

In most cases, the symptoms of cervical spondylosis can be relieved using a combination of:

In a small number of cases, surgery may be required to remove or repair a damaged section of the cervical spine (see below).

Read more about the treatment of cervical spondylosis.

What causes cervical spondylosis?

As people get older, the effects of ageing and everyday use causes wear to the joints and tissues that make up the spine. For example, the discs of the spine can dry out and shrink, and the ligaments can stiffen.

In all the body's joints, there is a constant process of "wear and repair" happening, as the joints adapt to the stresses and strains of normal everyday life.

Cervical spondylosis occurs when the balance of "wear and repair" is lost, leading to pain and stiffness in the neck.

Read more about the causes of cervical spondylosis.

Who is affected

Cervical spondylosis is a very common condition. It's estimated that 9 out of 10 adults will have some degree of cervical spondylosis by the time they are 60 years old (but many will not have any noticeable symptoms).

Outlook

The outlook for most cases of cervical spondylosis is generally good. Most cases respond well to treatment after a few weeks, though it can be common for symptoms to reoccur later.

In around 1 in 10 cases, a person can go on to develop long-term (chronic) neck pain. 




Page last reviewed: 12/09/2014

Next review due: 12/09/2016

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Comments

The 11 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Snow Cat said on 16 September 2014

Unsure about this, but things you could try are:-
1. A hot shower for quite a long time, with the hot water going over your head, neck and back.
2. A hot bath.
3. A new mattress.
4. A hot water bottle placed across your back between the shoulder blades.
5. A Massage.
6. Keeping all areas of the spine warm throughout the day and night. During the day a person can be cold without realising it. Wear correct clothing for the weather. Use hot water bottles during the day if you need to and/or throws/blankets around the shoulders. At night ensure the top part of the body is warm enough and supplement with hot water bottles.
7. Relocation somewhere warmer.
8. In hot weather try cold water.

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denterprised said on 03 September 2014

I was 18 when I was diagnosed with CS, which resulted in a dramatic lifestyle change for me. For years I went through all the conventional treatments which resulted in me now not able to take anti inflammatory tablets due to my kidneys. I ended up in hospital a few years ago with terrible pain in back due to my kidneys. I actually stopped taking anti inflammatory tablets a long time ago on a regular basis. I have found that the best treatment for my CS is an osteopath who I see fortnightly. I would not be able to function without them. I also started to attend vibrofit (which are vibrating plates) a year ago, this has helped to build up my core strength and my bone density has increased. Until I started going to vibrofit I was attending the osteopath nearly every week and I did end up in hospital with terrible back pain due to it spasming.

Try to keep a positive attitude and keep stress levels as low as you can as this affects my CS, the more stress the more pain.

Take control of your CS as it will control your life if you let it.

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Dodgement said on 18 May 2014

I started suffering CS after breaking my neck in an accident in 1972. I was never told about CS and the only treatment that I had was traction for many years and it seemed to help. One of my hobbies has always been playing snooker but about 5 years ago I suddenly found that I could not bend my head back sufficiently to get my chin down onto the cue so this effectively ended my snooker playing. Over the last 2 years I have started to suffer with Gout and I have been prescribed Allopurinol. After about 3 months I noticed more movement in my neck and I have now been able to play snooker again.
Hope this helps somebody.

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Helena59 said on 20 November 2012

A 'hit and run' accident. At the time of the accident you are not aware of the damage that has been done to you. The accident caused/activated cervical spondylosis symptoms by ten years. Having always been very active did not initially understand or accept that things will not return to normal. It was great to read and be able to relate so much that has been written here. Burning pain, from the neck spine across shoulders – aaaargh - sore neck muscles, difficulty swallowing, numb underarms to small finger, sensation of gripping pressure on side of head and jaw with creeping sensation across face as if your muscles are tightening up, right leg felt heavy and a sensation as if your leg is hanging from your hip, right buttocks and genital area numb, back of right leg numb and so on. Dizziness. Getting your GP to take you seriously. Painkillers wreaking havoc with your digestive system and finding a way to manage that. 4 years later - and the biggest thing I have learnt is that I have to listen to my body. Too many painkillers and pain is twice as bad when they wear off, you tend to do stuff you should not whilst on painkillers and end up worse off. No repetitive movements with my neck, or arms and never lift anything heavy. Lying down or sitting back whilst supporting my neck is my best way to get the pain to subside. I feel constantly tired. Food is very very important - healthy fresh food, definitely helps me get thru' the day. The neck exercises the physio taught me also help. I have now been given exercises for the vertigo which unfortunately is not helping at all. Walking in large open spaces is a thing of the past unless I a friendly arm to hold which helps to anchor me and makes the vertigo feel less threatening. I am angry at not being able to work a full day, paint my house or work in the garden, I miss walking for miles, shopping and so many other things.

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newkat64 said on 03 August 2012

i have suffered with numbness and tingling in my arms since 2001-2002 but was only diagnosed with cs when the neck pain became so severe i couldn't ignore it, about 2 years ago.
the cs is getting worse in that i now get numbness, severe nerve pain which occasionally causes the affected muscle to 'collapse', and constant tingling in hands and toes but i have found that my job, which is very physical (walking and lifting fairly heavy items as a home-shopper!) actually helps overall.
i have only recently been told that i can take ibuprofen occasionally if really necessary (proton pump inhibitor means i thought i couldn't!) but i haven't used it yet.
it sounds as though some of the other contributors are having a far tougher time of it than i am, and i will count myself lucky for now.

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Harefield said on 31 July 2012

I started suffering from cervical Spondylosis as the age of 36 and just after the birth of my son now 9. It was very frightening initially as I had no strentgh in my left arm and severe pain radiating from my next down my shoulder, arms, hands and fingers. Numbness in the sides of my fingers and pins and needles in the fingertips. It took four months or so before the symptons became more managable and this was helped with a combination of meds, physio and acupuncure.

I took up horse riding 6 years ago and now I dont tense while riding I actually start to ache if I go for longer than 5 days without! I am not completely pain free for example today my neck shoulders and fingers are hurting but it is more bearable if I keep busy. I suffer badly with the vertigo but not sure this all down to the condition as I have had many bouts of inner ear infections, have had surgery on my ear drum and have a family history of weakness in the ears.

When I think back to when the condition started I couldnt carry my new born son or push him in a pushcahir, would be crying with pain whilst trying to feed him and couldnt sleep in a bed for the first 4 months, I know I have come a long way. My biggest fear is I am only 45 now so what is it going to be like when I am over 60 as 9 out 10 at this age have this condition tho most dont have noticable symptons!

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User681450 said on 30 May 2012

I was diagnosed with cs in 2007 and have collapsed discs at c4/5 & 5/6 and prolapsed 6/7 and blocked vertebral artery. I am back at the neurosurgeon now and having another mri scan tomorrow to see what further damage I have done! I was just really touched to hear how some people really suffer but at the grand old age of 39, I have managed to pretty much live a full and active life. I had to give up my life long sport and professional as a horse rider and coach and have 2 part time jobs, one desk job and one physical job making sheeps cheese!! 2207-2009 I was life a human vegetable where the pain was like nothing I could describe but since 2009 I have managed to get myself fit with the help of some great gym instructors and coaches and am now a keen kickboxer! I also do weight training, kettlebells, bootcamp fitness as well as more gentle stuff like pilates. I do still have my bad days which only tramadol and robaxin really help but I manage to cope most of the time drug free. I do also use an inversion table (Hanging upside down) to help relieve the pressure on my discs) and ensure that my diet is alcohol,caffine and junk food free to help stop any inflammatory response in my body which I am sure helps! I also have a great sports physio and also have regular bowen muscle release therapy to keep everything functioning as best it can. I refuse to be beaten by it and I hope that others who are suffering can perhaps find a bit of hope in what I have written. The condition cant be cured so we have to live with it the best we can!

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cracking up said on 10 February 2012

I've Had Psoriatic Arthritis for 16 and a half years now over the last couple of years I had increasing pain in my neck and going down into my shoulders and arms with pins and needles and numbness in my hands and fingers my neck ceaks and cracks and i get the feeling of things crawling about on my head. Went to see my consultant and he said I had Fibromyalgia which apparentley has the same symtoms as cs but I'm not convinced by what the consultant says but how do I convince him it's not fibromyalgia but cs.

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Brenda43 said on 13 November 2011

I am new to this so please bear with me. I am a 43 yr old female and have just been diagnosed with cervical spondylosis. I have had a xray of my spine which showed some lower cervical degenerative changes with disc space narrowing and osteophyte formarion. I also have a loss of some normal lordosis - whatever this is!
Over the past two weeks this have been getting worse. I have a constant headache, trouble with my vision and concentration and now have to walk with a stick to stop me falling over.
I am waiting for a physio and an MRI appointment to come through. I have taken numerous painkillers along with Valium but nothing seems to help. Is there anyone out there who can help?

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marion40 said on 11 October 2011

hi, im 41 year old female who was firt diagnosed with this 10 years ago was very ill at the start hence how i got told this was what was wrong with me, after about 2 years of trying to get to grips with this horrible illness i got back on my feet and just worked through it when i could....
This year and last year iv been ill again with it!
Iv been in hospital for 4 days with sever pain and put on oxicontin and oxynorm tablets , i have since had an epidural at the top right hand side of my neck which realy dnt help, iv since then had another brain and neck mri which lasted 1 hour, yes its true 1 hour in those scarry machines! that day i also went through the tests for capel tunnel and nerve damage from my neck through to my arms to my hands, which i got told iv no capal tunnel and the problem is comming from my spine.
There is days the pain gets so severe i cnt get out of bed,i have tingling going down my arms and hands and sometimes have no grip in my hands,im waiting for another appointment to see my doctor to get my results for my mri and see whats next? im only 41 and this illness is taking over my life! I get so low with it as i should be doing everything and enjoying my life to the full but im like an old lady and have a rotten life, i just wish i could get something done and get out and have some fun.
I dnt have any support from family as iv not been in England long and would like to hear from anyone who has any information or support?

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stevens312 said on 06 October 2011

I have suffered from Cervical Spondylosis now for several years, but it has been very mild, but recently it has become more severe. I have tried all the relevant pain killers, but do not wish to carry on with this form of treatment. So I went to an Acupuncture Specialist in Dorset, and have had several courses of treatment, so far the results have been amazing, so I will continue with this. It has made a vast difference to my quality of life, with much less pain and discomfort.

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Pain: keep active

If you're in pain, keeping active will help as stiffening up can make pain worse.

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