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What is Cervical Spine Cord Compression?

The cervical spine extends from the skull base at the top of the cervical spine, to the chest cavity. These bony vertebrae are called C1 to C7. Inside of the protective bony outer casing is the spinal cord which is a bundle of nerves that transmits motor signals to and sensation from your body. Any condition that puts pressure on this cervical spinal cord can cause pain, weakness, or numbness in your neck, upper back or arms. The symptoms may occur gradually or suddenly and may require care from rest to emergency surgery.

A herniated disc compresses the spinal cord at C5

Symptoms

Symptoms of cervical spinal cord compression can develop suddenly or over time, depending on the cause. Neck injuries can cause immediate symptoms while tumors or infections may cause symptoms that develop over days or weeks. Degenerative diseases of the spine may take many years to cause symptoms.

Regardless of the cause, the most common symptoms include neck pain and stiffness, numbness or tingling in the arms and neck, weakness of the hands and arms, a burning sensation in the arms, or trouble with hand coordination.

Causes

Anything that causes damage to the bones of the neck can cause cervical spine cord compression. The most common cause is osteoarthritis which is the gradual wear and tear on the bones of the spine as we age. Bone spurs called osteophytes can press into the cervical spinal cord causing symptoms. Ligaments of the spine can relax and allow the discs into press the spinal cord or the vertebrae to shift which can pinch the nerves of the neck.

Other causes of cervical spine cord injury may occur suddenly or at least more rapidly. Injury to the neck can shift the cervical spine and cause sudden debilitating symptoms. Curvature of the spine, scoliosis, can predispose to spinal cord compression. Tumors of the spine or bones of the spine, either primary or metastatic can compress the spinal cord. Finally, rheumatoid arthritis or infections can cause symptoms.

Although you can’t prevent all causes of cervical spine cord compression, there are ways to limit your risks. Regular exercise and stretching will strengthen the neck and back muscles and help maintain flexibility. Having a healthy weight reduces pressure on your back and spine. Good posture, an appropriate mattress and pillow, and having chairs that support your back are also important.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis of cervical spinal cord compression is made by a combination of the patient’s history, examination and testing which may include:

  • A complete physical and neurological exam which includes evaluation of loss of sensation, weakness and decreased or absent reflexes. A neurological deficit could help locate the area of cervical spinal compression.
  • Imaging tests may include X-rays which use radiation to look at the bony anatomy of your cervical spine and may be a first test used. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses powerful magnets to evaluate the structure of the spinal cord and spinal verves. Computed tomography (CT) scans use high definition X-rays and are excellent for evaluating bony anatomy or acute bleeding of the spinal cord.

A Myelogram uses a special dye injected into the spinal fluid and an X-ray or CT scan to better look at the spinal cord. EMG or electromyography tests the health of muscles and the nerves that serve them.

Treatment

Your care will depend on the severity and causes of your cervical spine compression. Conservative treatments include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to decrease pain and swelling, and steroid injections that reduce swelling. Heat or cold like an ice bag, heating pad, or hot shower can help reduce pain. Physical therapy can involve muscle strengthening exercises or training in how to control your cervical spine more safely. A cervical collar might be used to support your neck and spinal cord while limiting movement of your neck and head. Alternative treatments might include chiropractic care or acupuncture.

Surgery may be indicated in cases of emergency or when there is chronic severe pain, that is not relieved by conservative treatment. Surgical treatments may include removing bone spurs or portions of the cervical spine to widen the space between vertebrae. Connecting some of the vertebrae together can stabilize an area of the spine using metal rods and bone grafts.

Contact Us

The best way to manage your spinal cord compression is to educate yourself as much as you can regarding your condition, and to become involved in your own care and treatment with your healthcare providers. Keeping your neck as healthy as possible includes having a healthy weight, good posture, proper lifting techniques, and regular exercise.

The neurosurgeons of Norelle Health are highly trained and skilled in the diagnosis, management, and treatment of Cervical Spinal Cord Compression. Our neurosurgeons can provide the optimal treatment. Neurosurgery is considered essential by insurances and should be covered with your plan. As out-of-network providers, we will check your benefits for you and let you know what they are so there are no surprises. We use an individualized treatment plan for your concerns to provide a personalized holistic plan of care. If you would like assistance, please feel free to contact us (link to contact page) or call our office (link to phone number).

Meet

Moustafa Mourad, MD, FACS is double board-certified in Head and Neck Surgery and Facial Plastic Surgery and Reconstruction. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons and a Member of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. He treats many conditions,... Learn More »