Your spine is a complex structure that houses the spinal cord. Injury or degenerative changes in any aspect of this structure can lead to ongoing symptoms. It is important to explore the underlying reasons for pain, stiffness, and limited range of motion. In the neck, 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 pain and address that cause directly.
Call 212-606-1004 today to book an appointment with NYC spinal surgeon Dr. Albert. With accurate diagnostics and early treatment, you may be able to postpone or even avoid surgery.
What Is Cervical Myelopathy?
You may be aware that the nerves that exit your spinal column can get compressed. This 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 on this main group of nerves is called myelopathy. Myelopathy is categorized by the spinal segment in which it has occurred. Cervical myelopathy is compression of the spinal cord within the cervical (neck) segment of the spine.
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. Additional factors that may contribute to cervical myelopathy include whiplash or another injury to the neck, spinal tumors, and rheumatoid arthritis.
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 grip strength and overall hand 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 myelogram of the cervical spine. Special tests may also be performed to measure the electrical conduction through your cervical nerves to your arms and hands.
What Are The Non-Surgical Treatment Options For Cervical Myelopathy?
When you consult with a spine surgeon about neck or back symptoms, you can expect them to recommend non-surgical treatments first. Usually, spinal conditions are initially treated with medication, injections, and 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 lessen the severity of symptoms and may, in some cases, slow the progression of the spinal compression. However, they do not reverse the problem. To do so, surgery is necessary.
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, bone spurs, or to stabilize a herniated disc.
What Can Happen if Cervical Myelopathy is Left Untreated?
If cervical myelopathy is left untreated, it can lead to more severe problems. It can cause permanent damage to the nerves or in more severe cases lead to paralysis.
You may also experience a variety of symptoms, including the following:
- Neck pain
- Neck stiffness
- Reduced range of motion
- Numbness in the extremities
- Balance issues
- Having problems handling small objects.
- Poor hand coordination
- Loss of bladder control
- Loss of bowel control
Knowing the symptoms can help you recognize the condition faster, leading to faster treatment.
Are There Different Stages of Cervical Myelopathy?
Yes, there are multiple stages of cervical myelopathy. There are five different stages, which include the following:
- Stage 0 - The symptoms are mild and manageable.
- Stage 1 - There are noticeable signs of spinal compression.
- Stage 2 - There are gait difficulties, but the patient can still live relatively normal.
- Stage 3 - The patient cannot work but can still walk without assistance.
- Stage 4 - The patient is not able to walk without assistance.
- Stage 5 - The patient is bound to a wheelchair or bed.