Sleep in an awkward position or spend a little too much time roughhousing with the kids, and a sore neck is probably in your near future. But it’ll pass. However, there is a common form of neck pain that usually doesn’t pass — in fact, it often gets worse with time.
Cervical spondylosis is arthritis in the neck caused by wear and tear of the spinal discs, cartilage and bone over many years.
“This happens with age and is essentially a process that continues to happen throughout life,” said Jason Taub, MD, a neurosurgeon on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Plano Brain and Spine Center.
What to look for
While the telltale symptom of cervical spondylosis is chronic neck pain — or stiff neck — it can manifest in other ways as well.
“Some people experience numbness and tingling in the shoulder blades and down the arms and even into the hands,” Dr. Taub said.
When symptoms first appear, they may start off mild and get worse over time. However, in some cases, symptoms can appear suddenly and be quite severe.
Unfortunately, since cervical spondylosis is a form of arthritis, most everyone’s risk increases as they age. In fact, the Mayo Clinic estimates that 85 percent of people over the age of 60 actually have cervical spondylosis.
What you can do
Even though you can’t stop the aging process or using your neck, there may be steps you can take to slow the progression of the disease, or at least not exacerbate it.
“In terms of avoiding cervical spondylosis, try to avoid anything that causes persistent trauma to the neck — whether it’s work-related, activity-related or sports-related,” Dr. Taub said.
Despite the high likelihood of developing the degenerative condition, the good news is that most people either don’t experience any symptoms or only mild pain symptoms that come and go. You probably only need to get it checked by your physician or a neurosurgeon if you are experiencing persistent pain, numbness or tingling that does not go away.
“Most of the time, cervical spondylosis can be treated with medications and maybe physical therapy,” Dr. Taub said. “If surgery is needed, there are multiple minimally invasive approaches that typically involve removing pressure on the nerve root or spinal cord to give it more room.”
There are many health challenges associated with aging. And while cervical spondylosis is often one of them, with the right treatment, the pain and other symptoms it may cause don’t have to be.