Learn About Cervical Spondylosis

What is the definition of Cervical Spondylosis?

Cervical spondylosis is a disorder in which there is wear on the cartilage (disks) and bones of the neck (cervical vertebrae). It is a common cause of chronic neck pain.

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What are the alternative names for Cervical Spondylosis?

Cervical osteoarthritis; Arthritis - neck; Neck arthritis; Chronic neck pain; Degenerative disk disease

What are the causes of Cervical Spondylosis?

Cervical spondylosis is caused by aging and chronic wear on the cervical spine. This includes the disks or cushions between the neck vertebrae and the joints between the bones of the cervical spine. There may be abnormal growths or spurs on the bones of the spine (vertebrae).

Over time, these changes can press down on (compress) one or more of the nerve roots. In advanced cases, the spinal cord becomes involved. This can affect your arms, legs, and balance.

Everyday wear and tear may start these changes. People who are very active at work or in sports may be more likely to have them.

The major risk factor is aging. By age 60, most people show signs of cervical spondylosis on x-ray. Other factors that can make someone more likely to develop spondylosis are:

  • Being overweight and not exercising
  • Having a job that requires heavy lifting or a lot of bending and twisting
  • Past neck injury (often several years before)
  • Past spine surgery
  • Ruptured or slipped disk
  • Severe arthritis
What are the symptoms of Cervical Spondylosis?

Symptoms often develop slowly over time. But they may start or get worse suddenly. The pain may be mild, or it can be deep and so severe that you are unable to move.

You may feel the pain over the shoulder blade. It may spread to the upper arm, forearm, or fingers (in rare cases).

The pain may get worse:

  • After standing or sitting
  • At night
  • When you sneeze, cough, or laugh
  • When you bend the neck backward or twist your neck or walk more than a few yards or more than a few meters

You may also have weakness in certain muscles. Sometimes, you may not notice it until your doctor examines you. In other cases, you will notice that you have a hard time lifting your arm, squeezing tightly with one of your hands, clumsiness of your hand, or other problems.

Other common symptoms are:

  • Neck stiffness that gets worse over time
  • Numbness or abnormal sensations in the shoulders or arms
  • Headaches, especially in the back of the head
  • Pain on the inside of the shoulder blade and shoulder pain

Less common symptoms are:

  • Loss of balance
  • Pain or numbness in the legs
  • Loss of control over the bladder or bowels (if there is pressure on the spinal cord)
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What are the current treatments for Cervical Spondylosis?

Your doctor and other health professionals can help you manage your pain so that you can stay active.

  • Your doctor may refer you for physical therapy. The physical therapist will help you reduce your pain using stretches. The therapist will teach you exercises that make your neck muscles stronger.
  • The therapist can also use neck traction to relieve some of the pressure in your neck.
  • You may also see a massage therapist, someone who performs acupuncture, or someone who does spinal manipulation (a chiropractor, osteopathic doctor, or physical therapist). Sometimes, a few visits will help with neck pain.
  • Cold packs and heat therapy may help your pain during flare-ups.

A type of talk therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy may be helpful if the pain is having a serious impact on your life. This technique helps you better understand your pain and teaches you how to manage it.

Medicines can help your neck pain. Your doctor may prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) for long-term pain control. Opioids may be prescribed if the pain is severe and does not respond to NSAIDs.

If the pain does not respond to these treatments, or you have a loss of movement or feeling, surgery is considered. Surgery is done to relieve the pressure on the nerves or spinal cord.

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What is the outlook (prognosis) for Cervical Spondylosis?

Most people with cervical spondylosis have some long-term symptoms. These symptoms improve with non-surgical treatment and do not need surgery.

Many people with this problem are able to maintain an active life. Some people will have to live with chronic (long-term) pain.

What are the possible complications of Cervical Spondylosis?

This condition may lead to the following:

  • Inability to hold in feces (fecal incontinence) or urine (urinary incontinence)
  • Loss of muscle function or feeling
  • Permanent disability (occasionally)
  • Poor balance
When should I contact a medical professional for Cervical Spondylosis?

Contact your provider if:

  • The condition becomes worse
  • There are signs of complications
  • You develop new symptoms (such as loss of movement or feeling in an area of the body)
  • You lose control of your bladder or bowels (call right away)
Skeletal spine
Cervical spondylosis
What are the latest Cervical Spondylosis Clinical Trials?
Less Invasive Decompression Alone as Good as Decompression Plus Instrumented Fusion for Lumbar Spinal Degenerative Spondylolisthesis at Long Term? A Pragmatic Comparative Non-inferiority Observational Study From the Norwegian Registry for Spine Surgery

Summary: In many countries a majority of patients with degenerative spondylolisthesis are operated on with decompression plus instrumented fusion, but the scientific evidence for adding fusion is controversial. To evaluate whether micro-decompression alone is as good as (non-inferior to) decompression plus instrumented fusion, a study with data from the Norwegian Registry for Spine Surgery was conducted, n...

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Prospective Hounsfield Unit Measurements of Intercorporal Bone Grafts Remodelling Towards Spinal Fusion

Summary: Instrumented lumbar fusion surgery is often accompanied by interbody fusion using an autologous bone graft that is supposed to expand and remodel to achieve a rigid and lasting bony construction between two vertebrae. However, there is a dearth of knowledge regarding the process of biological remodelling of intercorporal bone grafts. Also, a valid and reliable assessment of fusion status remains c...

What are the Latest Advances for Cervical Spondylosis?
Performing the 3-level Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion (ACDF): Technical Pearls to Maximize Fusion Rates and Reduce Postoperative Complications.
Zero-profile implant versus conventional cage-plate construct in anterior cervical discectomy and fusion for the treatment of single-level degenerative cervical spondylosis: a systematic review and meta-analysis.
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Neck Pain and Headache After Pinealectomy: Improvement with Multimodal Chiropractic Therapies.
Who are the sources who wrote this article ?

Published Date: June 13, 2021
Published By: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

What are the references for this article ?

Fast A, Dudkiewicz I. Cervical degenerative disease. In: Frontera WR, Silver JK, Rizzo TD, Jr., eds. Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 3.

Kshettry VR. Cervical spondylosis. In: Steinmetz, MP, Benzel EC, eds. Benzel's Spine Surgery. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 96.

Ronthal M. Arm and neck pain. In: Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, Pomeroy SL, Newman NJ, eds. Bradley and Daroff's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 32.