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Cervical Myelopathy

What is cervical myelopathy?

Cervical myelopathy is a serious condition in the neck where the spinal cord becomes compressed or squeezed and starts to affect the sensation and function of the arms and hands.

What causes cervical myelopathy?

The compression the spinal cord in cervical myelopathy is generally caused by physical pressure from other structures around the spine. This can be caused by:

  • Degeneration of the discs that lie within your spine
  • Formation of bony growths in the neck and spine
  • Other spinal conditions such as spinal stenosis, a kind of arthritis, which can cause extra wear and tear in this part of the spine

How is cervical myelopathy diagnosed?

Cervical myelopathy is initially diagnosed during a consultation with a physical examination of your neck, and sometimes your arms if they are also affected. You will likely need an x-ray and a CT or MRI scan to confirm the diagnosis and assess the degree of compression, which helps to select the most appropriate management and treatment for you.

Treatment and recovery

The early stages of this condition, where there are some arthritic changes in your spine but no true nerve compression, can be treated non-surgically with anti-inflammatory medications and physiotherapy. Direct pain-killing injections or ‘nerve block’ procedures can also be helpful in relieving your symptoms.

Once your spinal cord begins to become compressed, your symptoms can become severe and surgery is required to decompress the nerves. The type of surgery needed will depend on the cause of the compression and often a combination of these procedures is required, but they can all be performed in one operation.

  • Cervical decompression – this involves removing structures that are causing compression, like bony growths
  • Cervical discectomy – this is the complete removal of discs that are causing compression. They can be replaced by prosthetic discs
  • Spinal fusion – this usually occurs following a decompression and/or discectomy and uses a combination of metal plates, rods and bone grafts to stabilise the spine and prevent future compression

Initial recovery following a procedure like this is a 3-6 night hospital stay, during which physiotherapists will encourage you to walk. You will also need to wear a neck brace throughout this period. There is 6-12 weeks of physiotherapy following discharge, as well as regular outpatient review. Although this is a major surgery, our spinal specialists will take care of you and many people are back to their normal day-to-day activities after 3-6 months.

For more information or to book an appointment, please contact us.

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