As we get older, our bodies suffer from wear and tear, which strongly affects our bone health. Cervical myelopathy is one particularly painful spine-related condition that occurs all too frequently as we age, although the earlier you recognise the symptoms, the easier it will be to do something about it.
The term 'Cervical' relates to the bones in the neck, while 'Myelopathy' tells us that damage has been done to the spinal cord (the nervous tissue that runs from the base of your skull down to the bottom of your spine), and if you've been diagnosed with it, you will know that it is hard to ignore. If you or an older family member are prone to aches and stiffness of the neck but do not have a medical diagnosis, then you may wish to go for an official check-up, and perhaps start taking preventative measures.
Cervical myelopathy is degenerative, and it commonly strikes Americans over the age of 55. It is caused by compression within the upper spinal column, which disrupts the transmission of nervous impulses. Arthritis of the neck, also called cervical spondylosis, is the most common reason for this. It can lead to disc degeneration, the thickening of ligaments and the growth of bone spurs which may pinch the spinal cord.
Because the condition is high up in the neck, it can affect the way that nervous impulses move through the whole spinal cord, which, in turn, means nervous impulses to the arms, hands and legs can be affected. If you notice numbness or tingling in your hands and feet, then you may be experiencing cervical myelopathy.
Cervical myelopathy may cause pain in your extremities, although this is rare, and if you do notice this, you must make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible. Although most people do not experience pain, stiffness and loss of coordination in the hands and legs are common.
You could find it difficult to walk or even start losing your balance because your legs simply won't move in a normal, fluid motion, and you may struggle to grip your fork at the dinner table due to bouts of weakness. If you have spent years working with your hands, this condition can be particularly frustrating, as you suddenly struggle with once effortless tasks, although we all need to use our hands on a daily basis, so you are certainly not the only one feeling this.
Spasticity (extreme muscle tightness) may also limit your movements, leading to muscle wastage. Urinary urgency and bladder and bowel incontinence can be some of the more distressing results of being unable to control your muscles, although this happens only in severe cases, and it is possible to treat and manage.
Cervical myelopathy is generally a progressive condition, but the way in which it develops varies between individuals. In some people, it is becomes steadily worse, while in others, mild symptoms may present themselves and remain as they are for a long time before sudden deterioration occurs.
Thankfully, this disease is treatable. If you have been diagnosed with cervical myelopathy, then it will typically be managed using methods such as wearing a neck brace and physiotherapy as well as pain killing drugs and injection therapies. You will likely also be asked to avoid heavy physical movement, which can be a cause of bone wear and tear. Surgery to alleviate spinal compression may be suggested if it is believed to be the best option for you.
If you are experiencing the symptoms listed in this article then bear in mind that there are many different kinds of nerve and spine problems with similar symptoms and that your condition may be different and even less severe. If your doctor thinks you have cervical myelopathy, he or she will send you to hospital for either x-ray or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to see whether your spine is compressed or not.
If it is confirmed that you have cervical myelopathy then remember that you are not alone. Thousands of others are able to deal with it and lead normal lives, and with the right support, you can too.