The cervical spine consists of seven vertebrae (C1 to C7) that protect the spinal cord and allow for movement and flexibility of the neck. With age or due to certain risk factors like arthritis, the discs and joints in the neck can degenerate, leading to the formation of bone spurs and narrowing of the spinal canal.
Cervical myelopathy is usually a slow, progressive spinal disease that causes major spinal cord dysfunction. Cervical myelopathy is compression of the spinal cord in the cervical (neck) region of the spine resulting in symptoms in the arms including:
- Clumsiness in the arms, hands, or fingers
- Loss of dexterity- difficulty performing fine motor skill like combing the hair, holding small object, difficulty with handwriting or buttoning clothes or distinguishing different coin sizes.
- Pain or stiffness in the neck
- Radiating pain into the trapezius muscles, the muscles that extend from the back of the head to the neck,
- Radiating pain to the back of the ears
- Tingling, numbness, or weakness in the arms, hands, fingers and legs
- Balance problems and tendency to stumble or fall
- Bowel or bladder incontinence are rare and usually appear late in disease
The symptoms of cervical myelopathy can be subtle at first, with patients not noticing the problems, but can progress without treatment to functional decline and loss of function. Studies report that early surgical decompression can achieve good recovery of nervous system.
The primary cause of cervical myelopathy is spinal cord compression from the natural aging process, gradual degeneration of the spine that leads to spinal stenosis, the narrowing of the spinal canal in the neck. These degenerative changes are usually called arthritis that produces bone spurs as the discs degenerate. Another important cause is hardening of the ligaments surrounding the spinal cord. Cervical myelopathy can also involve enlargement of the facet joints in the cervical spine, and degeneration of the cervical discs.
Each of these contributes to the narrowing or compression of the spinal cord. In addition, injury to the neck can cause spinal cord compression. Rheumatoid arthritis can also cause spinal cord compression. Further, patients born with a narrow spinal canal (congenital stenosis) may be at increased risk of cervical myelopathy.
Cervical myelopathy is an extremely serious condition that may place patients at risk of neurologic deterioration and should be evaluated by a spinal surgeon specializing in the treatment of complex cervical disorders such as Chicago spine surgeon, Dr. Kern Singh.
Cervical spondylotic myelopathy is diagnosed through a combination of a thorough review of your medical history, a comprehensive physical exam and diagnostic tests. Imaging studies including x-rays can show bone spurs, narrowed disc spacing, and other degenerative bone changes. An MRI is important to visualize the cervical spine and soft tissues to identify any compression of the spinal cord. When an MRI shows a compressed and inflamed spinal cord, it confirms a diagnosis of cervical spondylotic myelopathy.
Patients with signs and symptoms of cervical myelopathy require evaluation by a spine surgeon with expertise in complex spine conditions such as Chicago spine surgeon, Dr. Kern Singh. In many instances, patients will be considered for urgent surgical intervention to relieve the pressure on the spinal cord. Studies report that timely intervention is critical to prevent permanent damage. All surgical procedures are performed on the patient who is under general anesthetic. The goal of surgery is to increase space for the spinal cord to eliminate compression of the cord.
Schedule a consultation
If you or a loved one is experiencing neck and arm pain, contact Chicago spine surgeon Dr. Kern Singh to schedule a consultation to receive the correct diagnosis and all your treatment options.
Dr. Kern Singh, MD is an internationally renowned spine surgeon specializing in outpatient minimally invasive and motion-preserving techniques and endoscopic spine surgery at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush and Professor in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois. Dr. Kern Singh is one of the nation’s Top 100 spine surgeons and beloved by his patients for his compassionate care and excellent outcomes. He welcomes nationally and internationally – based patients.
- Kuo DT, Tadi P. Cervical Spondylosis. [Updated 2022 May 8]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK551557/
- Donnally III CJ, Hanna A, Odom CK. Cervical Myelopathy. [Updated 2023 Jan 15]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482312/
At A Glance
Dr. Kern Singh
- Minimally invasive and endoscopic spine surgeon
- Inventor and surgeon innovator with multiple patents in spinal surgery and instrumentation
- Author of more than 10 textbooks in minimally invasive spinal surgery
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