What Is Spondylosis?

Spondylosis is a condition in which there is abnormal wear on the cartilage and bones of the neck (cervical vertebrae). It is a common cause of chronic neck pain.

Spondylosis is caused by chronic wear on the spine. This includes the disks or cushions between the neck vertebrae and the joints between the bones of the cervical spine.

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 not just the arms, but the legs as well.

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 symptoms of spondylosis often develop slowly over time, but they may also start or get worse suddenly. Symptoms include:

  • Pain that may be mild, or it can be deep and so severe that you are unable to move
  • Pain over the shoulder blade
  • Pain that spreads to the upper arm, forearm, or fingers (in rare cases)

Other common symptoms are:

  • Neck stiffness that gets worse over time
  • Numbness or abnormal sensations in the shoulders, arms, or legs (in rare cases)
  • Headaches, especially in the back of the head

Diagnosis of Spondylosis

Your health care provider will first perform a physical exam. She may ask you to bend your head forward and to each side while putting slight downward pressure on the top of your head. Increased pain or numbness during this test is usually a sign that there is pressure on a nerve in your spine.

Weakness or loss of feeling can be signs of damage to certain nerve roots or to the spinal cord. A spine or neck x-ray may be done to look for arthritis or other changes in your spine.

Treatment at Penn

Your health care team at Penn Medicine can help you effectively manage your pain so you can stay active. Physical therapy can help reduce pain through stretching and neck traction. If your pain does not decrease after therapy and medication, surgery may be considered to help relieve some of the pressure on the nerves and spinal cord.

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