Updated: 5/9/2020

Cervical Spondylosis

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  • Cervical spondylosis represents the natural degenerative process of the cervical motion segment (intervertebral disc and facets)
    • often leads to the clinical conditions of
      • cervical radiculopathy 
      • cervical myelopathy 
      • discogenic neck pain
  • Epidemiology
    • incidence
      • typically begins at age 40-50
        • 85% of patients >65 years of age demonstrate spondylotic changes regardless of symptomatology 
    • demographics
      • more common in men than women
    • location
      • most common levels are C5-6 > C6-7 because they are associated with the most flexion and extension in the subaxial spine
  • Pathophysiology
    • pathoanatomy
      • see below
    • 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 desiccation, loss of disc height, disc bulging, and possible disc herniation
    • joint degeneration
      • uncinate spurring and facet arthrosis
    • ligamentous changes
      • ligamentum flavum thickening and infolding secondary 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
    • leads to the clinical condition of radiculopathy
    • foraminal spondylotic changes
      • secondary to chondrosseous spurs of facet and uncovertebral joints
    • posterolateral disc herniation or disc-osteophyte complex
      • between posterior edge of uncinate and lateral edge of posterior longitudinal ligament (PLL)
      • affects the exiting nerve root (C6/7 disease will affect the C7 nerve root)
    • foraminal soft disc herniation
      • affects the exiting nerve root (C6/7 disease will affect the C7 nerve root)s
  • Central cord compression (central stenosis)
    • leads to the clinical condition of myelopathy
    • occurs with canal diameter is < 13mm (normal is 17mm)
    • worse during neck extension where the central cord is pinched between
      • degenerative disc (anterior)
      • hypertrophic facets and infolded ligamentum (posterior)
  • Radiographs
    • common radiographic findings include
      • degenerative changes of uncovertebral and facet joints
      • osteophyte formation
      • disc space narrowing
      • endplate sclerosis
      • decreased sagittal diameter (cord compression occurs with canal diameter is < 13mm)
    • incidence
      • radiographic findings often do not correlate with symptoms
    • lateral
      • important to look for sagittal 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 is given via C1-C2 puncture and allowed to diffuse caudally or given via a lumbar puncture and allowed to diffuse proximally by putting the patient in Trendelenburg position.
    • particularly useful in patients that can not have an MRI (pacemaker) or has artifact from hardware
  • Discography
    • controversial and rarely indicated in cervical spondylosis
    • approach is similar to that used with ACDF
    • risks include esophageal puncture and disc infection
Clinical Presentation
  • Axial neck pain 
  • Cervical Radiculopathy 
  • Cervical Myelopathy 

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(SBQ07SM.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? Review Topic | Tested Concept

QID: 1415

Horse racers (Jockeys)




Badminton players




Baseball players




Volleyball players







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