Myelopathy is a nervous system disorder that results from trauma or compression to the spinal cord. When the problem is housed in your neck, this is known as cervical myelopathy. In today’s blog, we take a closer look at why cervical myelopathy develops, what symptoms it brings and how to treat the problem.
Causes and Symptoms of Cervical Myelopathy
Like many conditions in the spine, cervical myelopathy is commonly caused by age and the natural degeneration we experience as we get older. Gradual spinal degeneration can lead to nerve compression and the onset of cervical myelopathy, as can the onset of spinal stenosis, which is a gradual narrowing of the spinal canal. For these reasons, cervical myelopathy is more common in adults over the age of 50. However, the condition can also be caused by bulging or herniated discs in the neck, and while these too are more common in older individuals, acute trauma can also lead to cervical myelopathy.
Symptoms of the condition include:
- Neck pain
- Neck stiffness
- Reduced range of motion
- Radiculopathy, or pain the travels or can be described as “shooting”
- Arm weakness or numbness
- Loss of coordination in your hands
- Balance problems
Diagnosing and Treating Cervical Myelopathy
If you are dealing with some of the above symptoms, it’s a good idea to head into a neurospecialist’s office so they can have a closer look. If you’re familiar with whiplash, you may notice that its symptoms are very similar to those of cervical myelopathy, so it’s important to get a diagnosis so your doctor can determine if it’s your spinal cord that’s being affected or if you’re dealing with a muscular or soft tissue injury. Also, cervical myelopathy is like a lot of health conditions in that treatment is more successful if the condition is caught at an earlier stage, so don’t delay if you’re experiencing symptoms.
During a diagnosis, your neurospecialist will conduct a physical test to assess your muscle strength, reflexes and balance, review your medical history and order any necessary imaging tests, be it an X-ray, MRI or CT myelogram. If the doctor comes to the conclusion that you are dealing with cervical myelopathy, they’ll give you more information about the condition before talking about your treatment options.
They’ll likely begin with the nonsurgical options, which may include physical therapy and neck bracing. This can help to alleviate symptoms and prevent further compression if caught early enough, but because the condition isn’t typically caught early since many individuals mistake symptoms for part of the natural aging process, surgery is often the eventual treatment outcome.
Depending on your specific condition, your doctor may recommend a laminoplasty, which is a procedure to widen the spinal canal, or a spinal decompression with fusion to remove the compressing objects and stabilize the spinal canal. Dr. Chang has a wealth of experience performing both of these operations should this become necessary for your condition.
For more information about cervical myelopathy or how to best treat it, reach out to Dr. Chang’s office today.