Cervical Myelopathy


Your spine is a complex structure that houses the spinal cord. Injury or degenerative changes of the spine can lead to ongoing symptoms. It is important to explore the underlying reasons for pain, stiffness, and limited range of motion. In the neck, or cervical spine, these symptoms could indicate nerve compression or cervical myelopathy, both of which can present significant risks. Dr. Todd J. Albert provides personal care that can identify the cause of neckpain and can also make recommendations to address that cause directly.

Call 212-606-1004 today to book an appointment with NYC spinal surgeon Dr. Albert. 

What Is Cervical Myelopathy?

You may be aware that the nerves that exit your spinal cord can get compressed. When this happens you may develop pain radiating down your arm. This type of pain is called radiculopathy. The spinal cord itself may also suffer compression. The spinal cord is the bundle of nerves that runs the length of the spine. Compression of the spinal cord can lead to a condition called cervical myelopathy. Myelopathy is when this spinal cord compression leads to sensory and/or motor dysfunction of the innervated areas.

What Causes Cervical Myelopathy?

Stenosis, the narrowing of the spinal canal, is the most common cause of myelopathy. Cervical spondylotic myelopathy, as it is called, develops gradually due to natural, age-related degeneration of the spinal structure. This type of cervical myelopathy usually occurs in middle-aged and older adults. Compression on the spinal cord may also result from herniated discs or bone spurs. It may also stem from the hardening of the ligaments that surround the spinal cord, called ossification. As the ligaments harden, they become rigid and eventually turn into bone.

In addition, the cause of cervical myelopathy can sometimes be linked to other spinal disorders or injuries such as:

  • Herniated cervical disc: Herniated discs can occur in the neck or lower back, and can often bulge or burst, causing pain. As a result, this may cause pressure on the spinal cord.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: With the inflammation of the joints, this autoimmune disease can affect the whole body, but if the joints in the cervical spine because inflamed, they can become damaged, complicating mobility.
  • Trauma: Sudden injuries like car accidents or a sports collision, especially to the neck, can lead to a compressed spinal cord.
  • Whiplash: This severe-jerk injury linked to the head is often also connected to the spine and can cause complications.
  • Spinal infections: Most spinal infections are a result of either a bacterial or fungal infection from another part of the body that has been carried through the bloodstream to into the spine
  • Spinal tumors and cancers: Abnormal growths of mass tissue, or tumors, along the spinal cord or column, can cause cervical myelopathy. While sometimes, spinal tumors are benign, it’s best to check with your healthcare provider to determine if these tumors can potentially be cancerous and treated.

What Are The Symptoms Of Cervical Myelopathy?

Some people exhibit no symptoms of cervical myelopathy, especially early on in their condition. As compression on the spinal cord continues to worsen, it is common to develop localized pain and stiffness in the neck. These may limit your range of motion, preventing you from comfortably moving your head to certain angles. Symptoms may also radiate away from your neck. You may develop a shooting pain down your spine or down your arms. Your arms and hands may feel weak or they may tingle or go numb. These symptoms may affect your strength and coordination.

How Is Cervical Myelopathy Diagnosed?

The symptoms of cervical myelopathy may resemble what are considered normal signs of aging. It is important to have your symptoms evaluated by a qualified spine specialist. Doing so enables you to obtain the right level of care in a timely manner that can result in a better treatment outcome. When you consult with a spine specialist like Dr. Albert, you can expect a thorough examination of your spine, as well as your reflexes, muscle strength, and other physical functions. To observe your spine, the doctor may order X-rays or other imaging, such as an MRI or CT scan of the cervical spine. 

What Are The Non-Surgical Treatment Options For Cervical Myelopathy?

When you consult with a spine surgeon regarding neck or back symptoms, you can expect them to recommend conservative treatments first. Spinal conditions are typically initially treated with medication, injections, and/or physical therapy. The symptoms of cervical myelopathy may also be managed by wearing a cervical collar. The purpose of non-surgical treatments is to reduce pain and other symptoms by alleviating inflammation and stabilizing the neck. These treatments may help to lessen the severity of symptoms. 

What Are The Surgical Treatment Options For Cervical Myelopathy?

An experienced spinal surgeon like Dr. Todd Albert may consider a few different approaches to correct cervical myelopathy. Depending on your situation, you may be a good candidate for a laminoplasty procedure, which widens the spinal canal. Conversely, spinal decompression and fusion may be better suited to your needs. This procedure may be ideal for the correction of ossified ligaments in the cervical spine and bone spurs, or to stabilize a herniated disc.

Is It Possible to Prevent Cervical Myelopathy?

Often linked to chronic illnesses, disorders, and accidents, cervical myelopathy is not always preventable. However, because myelopathy is typically affected by simple aging or wear and tear, it is possible to eliminate your chances of being diagnosed with this condition by strengthening and caring for both your spine and overall physical health. Try:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight: With a balanced diet and lifestyle, you can achieve a healthy weight that will allow your body to function at its best, and relieve your spine of extra pressure it may endure if you are overweight.
  • Avoid heavy physical activity: It’s important to be mindful of the use of your back. One way to protect your spine and back from further injury and trauma is to avoid harsh sports such as football, weightlifting, or wrestling.
  • Stop smoking: Quitting smoking can result in huge overall benefits for your health, as smoking weakens your immune system, making your body more vulnerable to infections.
  • Strengthen your back and core muscles: Regular exercise paired with core and strength training.

What Happens If You Leave Cervical Myelopathy Untreated?

It is important to address compression of the spinal cord. Lack of treatment can result in permanent nerve damage that causes disability or dysfunction.

Schedule An Appointment

If you are experiencing chronic neck pain or other symptoms of cervical myelopathy, don’t wait to receive care. Contact our NYC office at 212-606-1004 to schedule a consultation with Dr. Todd Albert.

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