The most common symptoms of cervical spondylosis are neck pain and stiffness.
Occasional headaches may also occur, which usually start at the back of the head, just above the neck, and travel over the top to the forehead.
Pain usually comes and goes, with flare-ups followed by symptom-free periods.
Around 1 in 10 people develop long-lasting (chronic) pain.
Other, more severe, symptoms usually only occur if:
- a slipped disc or other bone pinches or irritates a nearby nerve (known as cervical radiculopathy)
- the spinal canal (bones that surround and protect the nerves) becomes narrower, compressing the spinal cord inside (known as cervical myelopathy)
These problems are described in more detail below.
The most common symptom of cervical radiculopathy is a sharp pain that ‘travels’ down one of your arms. (This pain is also known as brachialgia).
You may also experience some numbness or ‘pins and needles’ in the affected arm and find that stretching your neck and turning your head makes the pain worse.
Cervical myelopathy occurs when severe cervical spondylosis causes narrowing of the spinal canal (also known as stenosis) and compression of the spinal cord.
When the spinal cord is compressed, it interferes with the signals that travel between your brain and the rest of your body. Symptoms can include:
- a lack of co-ordination, for example you may find tasks such as buttoning a shirt increasingly difficult
- heaviness or weakness in your arms or legs
- problems walking
- less commonly, urinary incontinence
(loss of bladder control)
- bowel incontinence (loss of bowel control)
If you think you are experiencing symptoms of cervical myelopathy you should see your GP as soon as possible.
Left untreated, cervical myelopathy can lead to permanent spinal cord damage and long-term disability.