What Happens To Untreated Cervical Spondylosis & When To Go To Doctor?

Cervical Spondylosis is a widespread orthopedic condition that affects your neck bones, hip, and joints. Middle-aged and older adults are at higher risk of developing this condition. Spondylosis occurs when the discs of the cervical spine break down when it becomes dehydrated and stiffen over degeneration caused due to aging.

Age plays a crucial role in the pathogenesis of cervical spondylosis. Statistics show that approximately 90% of cases occur in people who are 50 years and older. Although some incidences are caused by neck injuries, most cases are caused by daily routine activities.

What Happens To Untreated Cervical Spondylosis?

Cervical spondylosis is asymptomatic and in fact, many people don’t even realize that changes are happening in their neck. When the symptoms are severe, the nerve may cause compression in bladder and bowel function. In the worst-case scenario, it severely damages the spine and makes the limbs paralyzed.

Persistent compression of the nervous system leads to symptoms such as neck pain, stiffness, and reduced movement of the neck. If left untreated, cervical spondylosis can result in cervical myelopathy or cervical radiculopathy.

Cervical Myelopathy- This is the most common spinal cord disease resulting in the compression of the spinal cord in the neck due to wear and tear. Myelopathy can be cervical and thoracic and include problems such as trouble walking, loss of balance, and problems with motor skills. Cervical myelopathy is a chronic condition and can lead to permanent nerve damage or morbidity if left untreated.1,2

As previously stated, cervical spondylosis is a symptomless condition and when symptoms develop, they disappear on their own in most cases even without the need of the treatment or therapy. Symptoms that cause discomfort can be managed well with proper treatment. However, in serious cases when symptoms start to progress then your doctor would suggest corrective surgeries.

On the contrary, when you turn blind eye to your disease and leave untreated, cervical spondylosis can result in permanent damage to your spinal discs and bones and lead to long term disability. It often results in progressive neurological decline which can severely impact the quality of life. These patients develop tetraplegia (a paralytic disease triggered by illness or injury resulting in partial or total loss of limb movements) and become wheelchair dependent.3

When To Go To The Doctor For Cervical Spondylosis?

Physical therapy is the most recommended treatment to improve symptoms in cervical spondylosis. Simple exercises and a slow range of motion are often helpful to ease your pain and improve flexibility with your muscles. You can even pay more attention to your sitting posture or change your neck pillow when you feel your problems are due to these factors.

However, when you experience your symptoms lingering over some time and your self-care is not helping you a lot, then you should consider setting an appointment to meet a doctor.

Your doctor most likely begins their approach with a physical exam to test reflexes in your muscles, determine the range of motion, and watch your walking posture. When they suspect for some abnormalities, they would suggest for a detailed analysis of your spinal cord.

This is typically performed used imaging tests such as neck X-ray, CT-scan, MRI, and Myelography to obtain detailed information required for diagnosis and treatment. Based on the diagnosis, your health care provider recommends a multitude of treatments (medicines, wearing collars around the neck, injections, surgery, and a few others) to provide relief from cervical spondylosis.4,5

References:

  1. “Cervical Spondylosis.” Department of Neurology, www.columbianeurology.org/neurology/staywell/document.php?id=41974      
  2. Rubin, Michael, et al. “Cervical Spondylosis – Brain, Spinal Cord, and Nerve Disorders.” MSD Manual Consumer Version, MSD Manuals, www.msdmanuals.com/home/brain,-spinal-cord,-and-nerve-disorders/spinal-cord-disorders/cervical-spondylosis  
  3. “Cervical Decompression.” Cervical Decompression – Treatments – For Patients – UR Neurosurgery – University of Rochester Medical Center, www.urmc.rochester.edu/neurosurgery/services/treatments/cervical-decompression.aspx     
  4. “Cervical Spondylosis.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 16 June 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cervical-spondylosis/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20370792
  5. “Cervical Spondylosis.” Department of Neurology, www.columbianeurology.org/neurology/staywell/document.php?id=41974

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