Recognizing Symptoms of an Unhealthy Spine

Published On March 20, 2016 | March/April 2016

Know the signals before it’s too late

By: Ram R. Vasudevan M.D.

Cervical stenosis results from cervical spondylosis, a chronic degenerative condition of the cervical spine. It is the most frequent cause of spinal cord dysfunction in patients over 55. 90 percent of men over 50 and 90 percent of women over 60 have evidence of cervical spondylosis. Cervical Spondylosis affects the bones and discs in the neck as well as the neural structures such as the spinal cord and the nerves.

As we age, cervical discs lose their hydration. The surrounding supporting ligaments lose their elastic properties. As the disc degenerates, it can herniate into the spinal canal. The intervertebral disc is a major stabilizing structure of the spinal column. Once the disc degenerates, the surrounding ligaments and bone take on more wear and tear. This results in the formation of bone spurs and the ligament inside the spinal canal thickens. These factors contribute to spinal stenosis, compressing on nerves and the spinal cord. The course of this degenerative process may be slow with long periods of non-progressive disability mixed with progressive neurologic deterioration.

Symptoms of cervical spondylosis can vary. Initial symptoms include chronic neck pain with a decrease in range of motion, headaches, and pain or numbness radiating into the shoulder, arm or hand. If symptoms progress, myelopathy, or spinal cord dysfunction ensues marked by weakness in handgrip strength, impaired fine motor coordination, hand clumsiness, and difficulty holding onto small objects. Advanced stages of the disease demonstrate loss of balance when walking, quadraparesis, and difficulty with bowel and bladder control.

Physical examination can initially reveal subtle changes such as brisk reflexes or diminished sensation before noticeable functional changes occur. The nervous system has the ability to compensate for the excess forces placed on these delicate structures. Once neurologic symptoms become apparent, neurologic function can decline rapidly and regaining function can be difficult.

Pain syndromes can be treated by several different conservative methods. Non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen can provide significant relief. Immobilization of the cervical spine using a brace can limit nerve irritation; traction can provide temporary relief by widening the exit tunnels for nerves. Cervical exercises, physical therapy, massage therapy, and manipulation can also be used for symptomatic relief.

When neurologic dysfunction develops, however, surgical intervention is crucial. Surgery is meant at preventing further neurologic decline and to attempt to avoid permanent loss of neurologic function. Pain and weakness may improve, numbness, however, can remain. Austin NeuroSpine utilizes the latest minimally invasive surgical techniques to decompress cervical nerves. Certain cases require an extensive decompression to relieve pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots requiring fusion of the affected levels.

If patients suspect they may have one or many of the symptoms associated with cervical spondylosis, consult your physician or contact Austin NeuroSpine for an evaluation.

For more information visit, www.austinneurospine.com

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