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Cervical Spondylosis


Overview :

As it runs from the brain down the back, the spinal cord is protected by ringlike bones, called vertebrae, stacked one upon the other. The vertebrae are not in direct contact with one another, however. The intervening spaces are filled with structures called disks. The disks are made up of a tough, fibrous outer tissue with an inner core of elastic or gel-like tissue.

One of the most important functions of disks is protecting the vertebrae and the nerves and blood vessels between the vertebrae. The disks also lend flexibility to the spinal cord, facilitating movements such as turning the head or bending the neck. As people age, disks gradually become tougher and more unyielding. Disks also shrink with age, which reduces the amount of padding between the vertebrae.

As the amount of padding shrinks, the spine loses stability. The vertebrae react by constructing osteophytes, commonly known as bone spurs. There are seven vertebrae in the neck; development of osteophytes on these bones is sometimes called cervical osteoarthritis. Osteophytes may help to stabilize the degenerating backbone and help protect the spinal cord.

By age 50, 25-50% of people develop cervical spondylosis; by 75 years of age, it is seen in at least 70% of people. Although shrunken vertebral disks, osteophyte growth, and other changes in their cervical spine may exist, many of these people never develop significant problems.

However, about 50% of people over age 50 experience neck pain and stiffness due to cervical spondylosis. Of these people, 25-40% have at least one episode of cervical radiculopathy, a condition that arises when osteophytes compress nerves between the vertebrae. Another potential problem occurs if osteophytes, degenerating disks, or shifting vertebrae narrow the spinal canal. This pressure compresses the spinal cord and its blood vessels, causing cervical spondylitic myelopathy, a disorder in which large segments of the spinal cord are damaged. This disorder affects fewer than 5% of people with cervical spondylosis. Symptoms of both cervical spondylitic myelopathy and cervical radiculopathy may be present in some people.




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