Cervical myelopathy is damage to the part of the spinal cord that is in the neck. The cervical spine begins at the base of the skull. It extends to the first seven vertebrae.
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Cervical myelopathy is caused by:
- A slipped disk
- Cervical disks that are worn, known as degeneration
- Tumors inside the spinal cord or compressing on the spinal cord
- Bone spurs
fracture of the neck
- Traumatic injury
to the cervical spine
- Autoimmune disease, such as transverse myelitis, multiple sclerosis, or neuromyelitis optica
Risk factors that increase your chance of developing cervical myelopathy include:
- Ischemia—restriction of blood supply
Autoimmune disorders, such as
multiple sclerosis, neuromyelitis optica; or other conditions, such as vascular disease or degenerative disease
- History of bone or back problems
- Being born with a narrow spinal canal
- Job or sport involving regular stretching and straining of spine
- History of cancer involving the bones
Symptoms may include:
- Pain in the shoulder and arms
- Tingling or numbness in the arms and legs
- Trouble walking or balancing
- Muscle weakness
- Problems flexing the neck
- Problems with fine motor control, such as buttoning a shirt
- Irregular movements
- Bowel or bladder problems
- Weakness below the waist or in all four limbs
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. It will focus on any muscle weakness. A neurological exam may also be done to check your:
- Mental state
Your doctor may need images of structures inside your body. This can be done with:
Other tests may include:
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. This may involve:
- Treating the cause of the myelopathy
- Improving functions that you have lost
- Reducing or managing pain
- Doing strengthening exercises
- Teaching you ways to reduce injuries
- Helping you learn ways to cope with the condition
If there is structural pressure on the spinal cord, you may need surgery right away. This is to attempt to avoid lasting injury. There are many different kinds of surgery and procedures to stabilize the neck, such as:
- Diskectomy—a surgical procedure to remove part of an intervertebral disc that is putting pressure on the spinal cord or nerve root
- Laminectomy—a surgical procedure to remove a portion of a vertebra, called the lamina
- Fusion of the vertebrae
Screws and a plate prevent the vertebrae from putting pressure on the spinal cord.
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Your doctor may recommend that you do:
- Physical therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Other approaches, such as ultrasound therapy, heat therapy, or electrical stimulation
Your doctor may prescribe:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS)
- Rituximab—This is an antibody used to treat some autoimmune disorders.
Other medications that affect the immune system are also sometimes used.
It is difficult to prevent this condition. Follow these guidelines to prevent accidents and strains:
- Ask about ergonomics in your workplace. Some examples of ergonomics include learning correct lifting techniques, improving your posture, and sitting correctly.
- Avoid contact sports if you have had disk disease with compression of the spinal cord.
- Limit neck movement.
Take these measures to prevent falls:
- Remove throw rugs and other obstacles from the floor.
- Install a night-light near stairs and your bed.
- Install handrails in the tub and shower.
- Rise slowly from a sitting or lying position.
Cervical myelopathy. Johns Hopkins Medicine website. Available at:
http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/neurology_neurosurgery/specialty_areas/spine/conditions/cervical_myelopathy.html. Accessed November 16, 2013.
Check for safety: a home fall prevention checklist for older adults. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/pub-res/toolkit/Falls_ToolKit/DesktopPDF/English/booklet_Eng_desktop.pdf. Published 2005. Accessed November 16, 2013.
Matsushima T, Yaoita H, et al. Operated family cases of cervical canal stenosis.
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Pollard H, Hansen L, et al. Cervical stenosis in a professional rugby league football player: a case report.
Chiropractic & Osteopathy. 2005;13:15.
Spondylolysis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated November 13, 2013. Accessed November 16, 2013.
Young WB. Clinical diagnosis of myelopathy.
Sem Ultrasound, CT, MRI.
Young WF. Cervical spondylotic myelopathy: a common cause of spinal cord dysfunction in older persons. Am Fam Physician. 2000 Sep 1;62(5):1064-1070. Available at:
http://www.aafp.org/afp/20000901/1064.html. Accessed November 27, 2012.
Last reviewed November 2013 by Rimas Lukas, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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