Cervical Spondylosis

Topic updated on 01/02/15 4:05pm
  • Cervical spondylosis is defined as chronic disc degeneration and associated facet arthropathy that can lead to the following clinical conditions
    • cervical radiculopathy 
    • cervical myelopathy 
    • discogenic neck pain
  • Epidemiology
    • cervical spondylosis typically begins at age 40-50
    • most common levels are C5-6 > C6-7 because they are associated with the most flexion and extension in the subaxial spine
    • more common in men than women
  • Risk factors include
    • excessive driving
    • smoking
    • lifting
    • professional athletes  
  • Spondylosis is a natural aging process of the spine
    • characterized by degeneration of the disc and the four joints of the cervical motion segment which include
      • two facet joints
      • two uncovertebral joints of Luschka)
  • Degenerative cycle includes
    • disc degeneration
      • disc dessication, loss of disc height, disc bulging, and possible disc hernaition
    • joint degeneration
      • uncinate spurring and facet arthrosis
    • ligamentous changes
      • ligamentum flavum thickening and infolding secodary to loss of disc height
    • deformity
      • kyphosis secondary to loss of disc height with resulting transfer of load to the facet and uncovertebral joints, leading to further uncinate spurring and facet arthrosis
Mechanism of Neurologic Compression
  • Nerve root compression (radiculopathy) caused by
    • foraminal spondylotic changes
      • secondary to chondrosseous spurs of facet and uncovertebral joints
    • posterolateral disc herniation
      • between posterior edge of uncinate and lateral edge of PL
    • usually affects the nerve root below (C6/7 disease will affect the C7 nerve root)
  • Central cord compression (myelopathy)
    • occurs with canal diameter is < 13mm (normal is 17mm)
    • worse during neck extension whe central cord is pinched between
      • degenerative disc (anterior)
      • hypertrophic facets and infolded ligamentum (posterior)
    • in asians can be caused by ossification of the posterior longitudinal ligament
  • Radiographs
    • common radiographic findings include
      • degenerative changes of uncovertebral and facet joints
      • osteophyte formation
      • disc space narrowing
      • endplate sclerosis
      • decreased sagital diameter (cord compression occurs with canal diameter is < 13mm)
      • changes often do not correlate with symptoms
        • 70% of patients by 70 yrs of age will have degenerative changes seen on plain xrays
    • lateral
      • important to look for sagital alignment and size of spinal canal
    • oblique
      • important to look for foraminal stenosis which often caused by uncovertebral joint arthrosis
    • flexion and extension views
      • important to look for angular or translational instability
      • look for compensatory subluxation above or below the spondylotic/stiff segment
  • MRI
    • axial imaging is the modality of choice and gives needed information on the status of the soft tissues. It may show
      • disc degeneration
      • spinal cord changes (myelomalacia)
      • preoperative planning
    • has high rate of false positive (28% greater than 40 will have findings of HNP or foraminal stenosis)
  • CT myelography
    • can give useful information on bony anatomy
    • most useful when combined with intrathecal injection of contrast (myelography) to see status of neural elements
    • contrast given via C1-C2 puncture and allowed to diffuse caudally or given via a lumbar puncture and allowed to diffuse proximally by putting patient in trendelenburg position.
    • paricularly useful in patients that can not have an MRI (pacemaker) or has artifact (local hardware)
  • Discography
    • controversial and rarely indicated in cervical spondylosis
    • approach is similar to that used with ACDF
    • risks include esophageal puncture and disc infection
  • Nerve conduction studies
    • high false negative rate
    • may be useful to distinguish peripheral from central process (ALS)
Presentation and Treatment
  • Cervical radiculopathy 
  • Cervical myelopathy 


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(SBQ07.30) Prospective studies have shown professional athletes in which of the following sports have the highest incidence of degenerative changes in the cervical and lumbar spine? Topic Review Topic

1. Horse racers (Jockeys)
2. Badminton players
3. Hockey players
4. Volleyball players
5. Golfers



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