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Cervical Spinal Cord Compression (Cervical Spine Myelopathy) Q&A

Posted on: November 22nd, 2018 by Ortho Illinois

Spine Anatomy

There are 24 bones in the spine, called the vertebrae. The vertebrae cover and protect the spinal cord. The spinal cord travels from the brain through the spinal canal made of the vertebrae to the lower back. Nerves branch out from the cord through the vertebrae to carry messages between the brain and the muscles all over your body.

Between the vertebrae are intervertebral discs that act as shock absorbers when you move. Discs are round, and flat, and about a half inch thick.

What is the cervical spine?

The cervical spine is made of seven, small vertebra that begin at the base of the skull and form the neck. They are labeled as C1-C7 to indicate the position of the damage.

What is cervical spine myelopathy (CSM)?

This is age-related changes in the cervical spine (the neck) that compress, pinch or squeeze the spinal cord or nerves. It is a progressive, degenerative condition that disrupts normal nerve transmission, causes disability and impairs the quality of life.

What causes cervical spine compression?

Degenerative changes that narrow the spinal canal (Spinal Stenosis) include arthritis of the spine, herniated discs, bone spurs and thickened ligaments. These changes eventually impinge on the spinal cord and compress the delicate spinal cord fibers.

What is a herniated disc?

With age, the discs deteriorate, and are prone to herniation, or squishing out into the spinal canal, compressing the spinal cord. Even simple acts like lifting, bending, pulling and twisting can cause a herniated disk

Who is most affected by CSM?

CSM is the most common spine disorder in people over age 55. Arthritis is the most common cause.

What are the symptoms?

Many people have no symptoms, but once symptoms begin they become progressively worse. Sometimes there may be an acute worsening of symptoms followed by a stable phase that can last for years, before the deterioration continues.

Symptoms include:

  • Tingling and numbness in the fingers, hands and arms
  • Weakness in the arms, shoulders and hands
  • Clumsiness of the hands which make it difficult to grasp and hold things
  • Loss of fine motor skills affecting handwriting, buttoning clothing, picking up coins and more
  • Leg stiffness
  • Unstable gait
  • Loss of balance
  • Urinary urgency
  • Neck pain and stiffness
  • Risk of neurological disability

How is CSM diagnosed?

Because the symptoms are similar to other conditions, diagnosis can be challenging. Your Ortho Illinois surgeon will evaluate your history and perform an exam. Spinal cord compression may be visible on imaging studies. CT and MRI Scans are essential to diagnosis.

How is DSM treated?

Treatment is designed to relieve pressure on the spinal cord and requires surgery.

Nonsurgical measures like physical therapy and pain management, muscle relaxers, and epidural injections can provide effective relief for many people. When they do not provide relief, surgery will be recommended.

Surgical decompression will prevent worsening of the symptoms. Spinal cord damage can heal by itself but there is no way to determine the degree of healing. We do know that the longer the compression the higher the risk of permanent damage.

What types of surgery are used?

Cervical laminectomy is surgery to remove a section of the bone that covers the spinal canal, to remove pressure on the spinal cord and nerves.

Ortho Illinois Spine Care is a regional spine center for people in Northern Illinois and the Chicago region who are suffering with neck and back pain. Our goal is to help relieve our patients’ pain, and restore their function so they can get back to the life they love. Invasive surgery is the last option. But sometimes it is unavoidable. When that is the case, we have fellowship trained spine specialists who are skilled and experienced in all aspects of spine surgery. Call us to schedule a consultation and learn about all your options. (815) 398-9491