Cervical Spine Disorders
The neck forms parts of the extended flexible column referred to as the backbone or the spinal column. This column extends towards most parts of the body. The cervical spine comprises seven bones in which the intervertebral discs separate them. The discs also allow the spine to rotate or move and function as shock absorbers freely.
But just like any other body part, the cervical spine is also prone to a wide range of disorders. These disorders affect the vertebrae as well as the spongy discs in the joints, ligaments, and muscles. Cervical spine disorders are also associated with several varying signs and symptoms. As such, early diagnosis and treatment are highly essential.
Types of Cervical Spine Disorder
There are several types of cervical spine disorders that can affect people at any age. The most commonly diagnosed conditions include;
- Cervical spondylosis
Cervical spondylosis is a broad term that refers to age-related wear and tear of the spinal disks within the neck. When disks dehydrate and tend to contract, signs of osteoarthritis begin to emerge. These signs include bone projections around the bone spurs (edges of the bones)
Cervical spondylosis is usually widespread and gets worse as a person ages. According to medical statistics, approximately 85 percent or more of individuals aging above 60 years suffer from cervical spondylosis.
- Degenerative disc disease
Degenerative disc disease is a condition associated with age. It occurs when one or several discs between the spinal column vertebrae break down or worsen, resulting in discomfort and pain. A person with degenerative disc disease is likely to experience numbness, fatigue, and pain that spread out towards the leg.
Regardless of the name, degenerative disc disease is not a medical condition. Instead, it’s a normal phenomenon that develops with age.
- Cervical herniated disc
The cervical discs refer to the cushions in between the vertebrae in the neck and the upper back region. Disc herniation, therefore, occurs due to the rupture or herniation of the gelatinous inner disc material and the nucleus pulp via the outer wall of the cervical disc.
The underlying cause or trigger of the cervical herniated disc includes stress on the disc. It can be due to heavy lifting and other harmful movements. In most cases, pain and various associated symptoms can arise when the weakened disc is forced into the nerve roots or the spinal canal.
- Cervical spinal stenosis
Cervical spinal stenosis refers to the narrowing down of the spinal nerve root or the spinal canal within the neck. As the narrowing happens, the spinal cord or the nerves gradually gets compressed. This results in several symptoms including, pain, discomfort, tingling, numbness, and weakness around the shoulder and spine.
The most common trigger of cervical spinal stenosis includes wear and tear or degeneration. This impacts the anatomical structures of the neck as a result of age.
- Cervical myelopathy
Cervical myelopathy refers to a widespread degenerative disease that occurs due to compression of the spinal cord. It’s usually associated with gait instability and clumsiness in the hands. Furthermore, a person with cervical myelopathy can experience a range of symptoms. This can include stiffness and pain around the spine, issues with fine motor skills, pain or stiffness, difficulty walking, and loss of balance.
- Cervical radiculopathy
Cervical radiculopathy is a form of disease characterized by the compression of the nerve from arthritic bone spurs or herniated disk material. Such an impingement usually causes discomfort or numbness around the neck. It also results in radiating numbness and pain in the arm, sensory problems, or motor impairment within the neck and upper extremities.
Common Signs and Symptoms of Cervical Spine Disorders
The most commoncervical spine disorders symptoms that a person is likely to experience can include;
- Neck pain: This is one of the prevalent symptoms of most types of cervical spine diseases. At times, the pain can flare up and gets more intense; this can last for several hours or days.
- Nerve pain: This form of pain is usually sharp and electric shock-like that can radiate from the shoulder towards the hand, arm, or fingers.
- Neurological symptoms affecting the fingers, arm, or hand. They include numbness, tingling, and weakness radiating down the shoulder towards the fingers, arm, or hand.
Other symptoms that might develop include;
- Pain that worsens during movement
- The trouble with balancing or coordination
- Difficulty when moving the legs or arms
- Weakness around the neck
Risks Factors of Cervical Spine Disorders
Some of the common risk factors associated with cervical spine disorder include;
Age: Most people usually develop cervical spine disorders with age. Therefore, a person who is 60 years or above is at a high risk of acquiring cervical spine-related disease.
Genetic factors: Some cervical spine disorders are genetic and can be passed from the parent to the offspring. However, while some people from a certain lineage can suffer from the condition, others might not.
Smoking: In most cases, smoking is associated with an increase in neck pain. Regular smoking can also prevent nutrients from traveling to the disc, hence resulting in rapid dehydration.
Testing and Diagnosing Cervical Spine Disorders
The surgeon or medical providers often make diagnoses basing on a person’s symptoms and medical history. Physical exams and the outcome of certain diagnostic tests are also helpful in making an accurate diagnosis.
Other significant diagnostic tests and procedure that can help assess the condition further include the following;
Computed tomography (CT) scan:
This involves a diagnostic picture made when a computer scans and combines a number of x-rays. It reveals the size and the shape of the spinal canal, including the surrounding structures and the content, particularly the bones.
In general, the CT scan provides essential information to the doctor regarding bone defects. This includes the osteophytes, bone spurs, fusion presence, and destruction of the bone because of tumor or infection.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI):
This is a diagnostic test that generates pictures of structures of the body. It involves the use of strong magnets and computer technology. It can display nerve roots, the spinal cord, and other surrounding parts. Doctors can also visualize degeneration, enlargement, disc herniations, tumors, and infections with the MRI technique.
Electromyogram (EMG) and nerve conduction studies (NCS):
Physicians use these diagnostic tests to evaluate electrical impulses within the muscle tissue, nerve roots, and peripheral nerves. It also shows if there is any continuing nerve damage or if the nerves are in the condition of recovering from a previous injury. Moreover, it helps determine whether there is a different location of nerve compression.
The healthcare providers can use x-rays to assess the bone structure with the spinal cord. It gives crucial details about the alignment of the spine, the existence of arthritis, fractures, and disc degeneration. In most cases, x-rays are applicable as relatively low-risk postsurgical imaging tests. This is to examine the spine as well as the equipment used.
This refers to an x-ray examination of the spinal canal after injecting the contrast agent into neighboring cerebrospinal fluid spaces. It aims at illustrating the pressure within the spinal cord and nerves caused by bone spurs, tumors, or herniated discs.
Treating Cervical Spine Disorders
Cervical spine disorders treatmentusually depend on factors such as the type, severity, the patient’s age, and overall health state. The treatment options can thus include the following;
Non-surgical treatment options:
Usually, non-surgical treatment is the first technique for every patient with neck pain that does not include trauma. Most patients suffering from cervical disk hernia feel better through conservative care and time; hence, they don’t need surgery.
Conservative care or treatment mostly involves medication, time, short bed rest, physical therapy, and reduced physical activities. The healthcare provider can recommend drugs to relieve pain or inflammation and muscle relaxants to give more time for recovery. Corticosteroid injections into the cervical spine joints or epidural space can help ease the pain temporarily.
Surgery might be necessary if:
- Non-surgical options, including medications and therapy, fail to address the condition effectively
- There are advancing neurological symptoms of the legs or arms
- One has mobility or balancing difficulties
Physicians can utilize various surgical procedures to treat cervical spine disorders. However, the best option is determined by the specifics of every case. Regardless of the surgical treatment approach, the major objectives of surgery include the following;
- Improving and retaining the spine stability
- Decompressing the nerves and the spinal cord
- Correcting and maintaining the spinal alignment
Examples of surgical procedures to treat and manage cervical spine disorders include;
- Anterior cervical discectomy
- Anterior cervical corpectomy
- Posterior microdiscectomy
- Posterior cervical laminectomy and fusion
Cervical spine disorders are the diseases and malfunctions that occur and affect the cervical spine. The cervical spine comprises vertebrae that encase and protect the spinal cord. These cervical spine-related conditions are usually common among older people aging 60 years and above. The symptoms also vary from one person to another, depending on the disease, severity, and age.
If you are suffering or suspect a cervical spine disease, you can always consider the CloudHospital medical platform. It comprises a team of healthcare providers committed to diagnosing, treating, managing, and preventing cervical spine disease.