At Southwest Scoliosis and Spine Institute, our board-certified, fellowship-trained orthopedic doctors, have treated thousands of patients with complex spine conditions, including Cervical Myelopathy.

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Cervical Myelopathy Explained

Cervical myelopathy is a kind of myelopathy in which the spinal cord in the cervical spine (neck) becomes compressed. Also, the cervical spine comprises seven vertebrae (C1 through C7), six intervertebral discs, and eight nerve roots. The spinal cord travels within the vertebral column, which consists of vertebrae in the front and intervertebral discs in the rear. Furthermore, eight nerve roots branch out from the cervical spine and regulate the function of your shoulders, arms, and hands. As a point of Interest, Cervical myelopathy occurs as a dangerous disorder that affects the cervical spine and can cause irreversible nerve damage, including paralysis and death if left untreated. Thus, this condition almost always causes a quick surgical response.

Doctors refer to any neurologic symptoms caused by a spinal cord as myelopathy. As a result of stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal in the neck), Cervical myelopathy produces pressure on the spinal cord in the neck. For example, degenerative changes appear as the most common causes of cervical spinal stenosis. Also, myelopathy causes can also stem from a massive, acute disc herniation or a fracture that compresses the spinal cord.

Types of Myelopathy?

Doctors divide Myelopathy into three categories, and each one refers to the part of the spine that is afflicted. The three kinds are as follows:

  • Cervical spondylotic myelopathy. When the cervical spine gets compressed, cervical myelopathy develops.
  • Thoracic myelopathy. Thoracic myelopathy occurs in the center of the spine In the upper and middle back.
  • Lumbar myelopathy. The lumbar spine refers to the lower back.

Cervical Myelopathy Causes

In addition to progressive wear and tear of the spine, Cervical myelopathy can occur by hardening of the ligaments covering the brain and spinal cord. The posterior longitudinal ligament hardening occurs more frequently. Therefore. implying that the soft tissue that links the bones of the spine loses flexibility and gradually transforms into bone. As the ligament thickens, it begins to take up more space and exert pressure on the spinal cord, resulting in myelopathy. The most prevalent site occurs in the neck region of the spine. Vertebrae are tiny bones that make up your spinal column.

A hole exists in every vertebra. The perforations form a safe pathway for the spinal cord when all of the vertebrae are appropriately positioned. In addition, the spine gets support from this channel, which comprises intervertebral discs, ligaments, and tendons. The cervical or neck area (with vertebrae labeled C1-C7), the thoracic or upper back region (T1-T12), the lumbar or lower back region (L1-L5), and the sacrum and coccyx, which are fused bones at the base of the spine, are the four regions of the spine. Any of these spinal areas might become affected by disorders or degenerative illnesses. While aging provides the most common cause of cervical myelopathy in individuals, other spinal disorders exist.

Other Spinal disorders

  • Herniated cervical disc. A herniated disc can bulge or burst in a painful manner. Pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots may happen as a result of this.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis. This autoimmune condition produces inflammation. The facet joints in the cervical spine can become damaged by inflammation, resulting in abnormal vertebral movement.
  • Trauma. An abrupt injury, such as a vehicle accident or a sports collision, can cause the neck to hyperextend, compressing the spinal cord.
  • Other cervical spine injuries, such as whiplash
  • Spinal infections
  • Spinal tumors and cancers

Cervical Myelopathy Symptoms

The beginning of cervical stenosis with myelopathy may go unnoticed in the early stages. For example, a tiny difference in handwriting or taking longer to get ready in the morning may become too subtle to detect. Symptoms may become more obvious over time and may involve one or more of the following:

  • Weakness or numbness: Hand weakness or numbness can affect grip strength. Other regions of the body, such as the arms or legs, may also suffer these sensations.
  • Reduced fine motor skills: Typing, handwriting, buttoning a garment, and placing a key in a door may all become more difficult for the person.
  • Changes in walking: The legs may seem heavy, or the person may find it difficult to move quicker. If the legs don’t move where they’re supposed to, balance issues might arise, necessitating the use of a walking cane and/or handrails.
  • Neck pain or stiffness: It’s possible that pain develops in the neck or that your range of motion becomes limited. Certain motions may cause the neck to create grinding noises termed crepitus.
  • Nerve pain: Intermittent electric-shock-like pain may radiate into the arms and legs, especially while bending the head forward (known as the Lhermitte phenomenon). Pain, tingling, weakness, and/or numbness may occur down the arm and/or into the hand if a nerve root also impinges.

Symptoms and their evolution emerge at different times for different people. The rate at which symptoms worsen over time may also vary. Symptoms may progress quickly for a while before settling down. Alternatively, the symptoms may appear gradually but consistently.

Diagnosing Myelopathy

Myelopathy’s most prevalent symptoms are not specific to this disorder. Unfortunately, they often mistakenly indicate other diseases. Your healthcare professional will conduct a physical exam and prescribe testing to appropriately diagnose myelopathy. These tests may involve the following:

  • Spine X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans are examples of imaging tests.
  • A myelogram shows the connection between bones and soft tissue in your spine using contrast dye and X-rays or CT images.
  • Nerve function tests can determine how your brain and body communicate.

Managing and Treating Myelopathy?

The cause of myelopathy impacts the treatment. If infection or tumor causes the myelopathy, then doctors will identify this cause and immediately treat the problem.  Of course, non-surgical therapies will treat these symptoms. However, after the spinal cord has been compressed, the majority of patients will require surgery to remove the pressure.

  • Nonsurgical treatment. Doctors will recommend nonsurgical treatment when the symptoms are modest or you are awaiting surgery. These treatments can assist in the reduction of pain and other symptoms. Bracing, physical therapy, or medicines can treat the condition.
  • Surgery. For a herniated disc, cyst, bone spur, or tumor pushing on the spinal cord, decompression surgery, which includes laminectomy, can fix the problem and stop the pain.  A surgeon removes little bones from the spine, known as lamina, during this treatment. The space around the spinal cord becomes enlarged by removing the bones.

Myelopathy Prevention

Myelopathy is not always preventable. Some myelopathy is caused by typical aging, wear, and tear, and by strengthening and caring for your spine, you can eliminate the potential of getting this condition. Some back ailments can be avoided or made less severe with the following back care:

  • Lift heavy objects safely. Bend at the knees, tense your stomach muscles, and rise with your legs. Find someone to assist you if you can’t lift anything on your own.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. The spine is strained even more by extra weight.
  • Stop smoking. Smokers’ spinal discs degrade more quickly.
  • Strengthen back and abdominal core muscles. Crunches, planks, and Pilates are exercises that can help.

The Prognosis for Myelopathy Patients?

Myelopathy might worsen over time if left untreated. The nerves that govern bodily motions and functions can become damaged by spinal compression. Because doctors cannot reverse nerve damage, it is critical to get treatment as soon as symptoms appear. Early detection and therapy can help you improve your health and, in some situations, reverse spinal cord injury.

When you come to the Southwest Scoliosis and Spine Institute, you will find Experts and specialists who focus on diagnosing and treating scoliosis and other complex spine conditions including spine and revision surgery for children and adults. At our practice, we encourage people to get checked early on for neck pain.  In the majority of cases, our findings are minor, but in certain cases, early detection and treatment can have a positive effect on future decades of a wonderful life. So pick up the phone today and give us a call.