Cervical Spondylosis Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Published on December 4, 2018 in Neck Anatomy and Disease.

Cervical Spondylosis Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Cervical spondylosis, also referred to as cervical osteoarthritis, is a spine condition involving wear to the bones, joints, and discs of the neck.  Cervical spondylosis is most common in middle-aged and elderly individuals, as the discs of the cervical spine steadily deteriorate with age. According to the Mayo Clinic, over 85% of people older than age 60 have cervical spondylosis.

Age-related wear and tear of the cervical spine can involve dehydrated and herniated discs, bone spurs, and stiff ligaments. There are, however, risk factors aside from age that can cause cervical spondylosis. For example, occupations that involve awkward positioning or repetitive neck motions can cause changes in the neck over time. Neck injuries and genetic factors also play a role in a person’s risk of developing spondylosis.

While there isn’t a way to prevent cervical spondylosis, there are ways to control and lessen the symptoms. In this blog post, we’ll discuss the symptoms of cervical spondylosis, how it’s diagnosed, possible complications of the condition, and treatments.

Symptoms of Cervical Spondylosis

Many people with cervical spondylosis are not aware of their degeneration, as a majority of those with the condition often experience little to no symptoms. When symptoms do occur, treatments are relatively conservative and typically do not involve surgery.

The most common symptoms of cervical spondylosis include:

  • Stiffness and pain in the neck
  • Headaches that are caused by neck pain
  • Pain in the shoulder and/or arms
  • Lack of movement in the neck or the inability to fully turn the head
  • Grinding sensations when the neck is turned

You may wish to see a doctor if you experience these additional symptions:

  • Numbness or weakness in the neck, shoulders, and/or arms

These symptoms might be a sign that your neck condition is more severe and requires medical attention.

Possible Complications

Those with cervical spondylosis are at a higher risk for possible complications such as cervical myelopathy or radiculopathy.

Cervical myelopathy

Cervical myelopathy occurs when there is pressure or damage to the spinal cord in the neck due to degeneration. Symptoms of cervical myelopathy include a loss of feeling or movement in the arms or hands.

Cervical radiculopathy

Cervical radiculopathy occurs when a nerve in the cervical spine is compressed or damaged as it exits the cervical bone.  Symptoms of cervical radiculopathy include shooting pain, weakness, or tingling down the arm and possibly into the hands.

Diagnosing Cervical Spondylosis

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of cervical spondylosis, a doctor will be able to determine a diagnosis and treatment plan.

What to expect when you visit the doctor

When visiting a doctor to discuss the possibility of cervical spondylosis, your visit will likely begin with questions about your symptoms and then a physical exam focusing on the neck. Physical exams often involve testing reflexes, strength of the hands and arms, and the potential loss of sensation.

The doctor may also decide to order imaging exams, such as an X-rays or CT scans, or nerve function tests, such as electromyography or a nerve conduction study.


Conservative treatments for cervical spondylosis include rest, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to relieve pain caused by inflammation, muscle relaxants or corticosteroid injections, chiropractic adjustments, and physical therapy to help manage severe pain.

When is surgery needed?

It’s rare that surgery is required for those with cervical spondylosis, and it’s typically only considered when a severe loss of function has occurred. Surgery may involve eliminating a bone spur or a piece of herniated disc with the goal of removing the sources of pressure on the nerves and spinal cord. Surgery can also be used when complete disc removal and disc height restoration is needed, which can be done by fusing areas in the neck with bone grafts and hardware or by inserting a motion-preserving cervical disc replacement. Most people do not require surgery for cervical spondylosis and instead turn to conservative care.

Find a treatment plan to manage cervical spondylosis

Whether you’ve already been diagnosed with cervical spondylosis or if you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned in this post, find a spine doctor who can help to create a treatment plan to manage your neck pain and discomfort.