We all wake up with aches and pains now and then as we get older. If you notice a certain pain in your neck area isn’t going away on its own or is getting worse, you may be experiencing symptoms of cervical myelopathy. Any unexplained neck pain lasting more than a week requires a visit to your doctor. Seeing a specialist only increases your chances of a correct diagnosis and favorable outcome. Call the office of Craig C. Callewart, MD in Dallas, TX and get on the road to spinal health.
What Is Cervical Myelopathy?
Cervical myelopathy is a degenerative condition that involves the compression of the spinal cord in the cervical spine or neck area. This part of your spine contains seven vertebrae, six intervertebral discs, and eight nerve roots. This is the most common form of myelopathy.
We define myelopathy as a spinal cord injury that’s caused by severe compression resulting from a degenerative disease, trauma or disc herniation. Certain types of this condition are most common in people over 50 and often go undiagnosed and untreated. This condition isn’t always just a result of age and can happen in much younger patients.
What Causes Cervical Myelopathy?
There are several causes of this condition, and only a specialist can decipher your symptoms and diagnose the myelopathy you may suffer from.
Cervical Spondylotic Myelopathy
Cervical spondylotic myelopathy refers to the degeneration of the spine that happens as we age. This myelopathy is most common in people over 50 and can be so gradual that the symptoms become part of the patient’s new normal. People can chalk this up to age without realizing there is something more serious happening.
Degeneration of the spine can cause a narrowing of the spinal canal at the neck, called spinal stenosis. Some patients may be born with an already narrow spinal canal so the aging process can make myelopathy present sooner in life than for people with normal spinal canals.
Ossification or hardening of the ligaments surrounding the spinal cord can cause this kind of myelopathy. The most common hardening happens in the soft tissue that connects the bones of the spinal column. This process makes the spinal cord less flexible, and it slowly turns into bone.
This ossification makes the ligament thicker, causing it to take up more space, which places pressure on the spinal cord. This process leads to myelopathy.
There are more causes of this condition, and each should be talked through with your specialist. These other causes may include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Spinal infections
- Whiplash or other cervical spine trauma
- Spinal tumors
What Are the Symptoms of Cervical Myelopathy?
Because this condition is degenerative, it may not seem like anything to take seriously when the first symptoms appear. Other symptoms may not even seem like they’re related at all because they aren’t near the neck area.
These symptoms appear in and around the neck area. Remember, it’s more than just an achy neck now and then. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms and they last for an extended period, calling a specialist is the best way to diagnose the underlying issue. Neck symptoms include:
- Neck pain
- Limited or reduced range of motion
These symptoms can be tricky because they’re so common. People can live for years with what they consider a “stiff neck” or neck pain and never get help. Cervical myelopathy is degenerative, so it will worsen as time goes on—getting in to see a doctor is imperative for early diagnosis and treatment. As the condition worsens, a patient may feel severe or radiating pain coming from the neck.
Because this condition involves the spinal cord, not all symptoms stay or are felt at the neck area even though that’s where the issue lies. Other symptoms can include:
- Poor coordination in the hands
- Tingling or numbness in the hands and arms
- Weakness of the hands and arms
- Difficulty with small objects like buttons, coins or writing utensils
- Balance or gait issues
These symptoms can indicate progressive neurologic changes that can come with severe spinal cord compression or swelling.
Only your specialist can determine the right course of treatment for you. This is not a condition that will go away on its own, however, getting the right treatment early will ensure the best outcome.
Non-Surgical Symptom Relief
One option is to treat the symptoms alone and ease the discomfort that way. Some options for symptom relief include:
- Wearing a cervical collar brace
- Physical therapy
- Spinal decompression
- Pain management medication
There are several surgical options available but only an experienced spine surgeon can determine which option will get you the best outcome. Generally, good candidates for surgery are those with:
- Weakness in the arms and/or legs
- Fine motor skills issues
- Balance issues
- Gait changes
- Numbness in the arms or hands
The best outcomes come from early diagnosis and treatment. Surgeons report optimal results when the patient has had a shorter duration of symptoms. This doesn’t mean that if you’ve been suffering a long time that there isn’t hope—there is. Getting checked out sooner is better in almost all medical scenarios.
Consult With the Best
You shouldn’t trust just anyone with your spinal health. Call the orthopedic treatment and surgery office of Craig C. Callewart MD in Addison and Dallas, TX to schedule an examination and consultation. We’re committed to your spinal health and know what great treatment can mean for the quality of your life.