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Cervical Myelopathy: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

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Cervical Myelopathy: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

  • Dr. Charla Fischer
  • Jul 12, 2017

Cervical myelopathy refers to the symptoms which are a result of spinal cord compression in the neck. The symptoms in most cases of cervical myelopathy can be subtle; hence it is difficult to diagnose the condition. People usually consider it as a normal sign of aging process. Though cervical myelopathy is a stepwise progression, whose recognition and treatment at an earlier stage is important because if the condition remains unattended, it can cause irreversible damage to the spinal cord.
Those suffering from cervical myelopathy experience some symptoms. The clumsiness of the arms and hands, generalized numbness, difficulty to work with small objects, handwriting changes, etc., are some of the initial symptoms. In extreme cases, one can experience instability or increased tripping while walking. Few patients also report electric shock-like sensations, which implies severe spinal cord compression. Gradually, a patient may start to experience changes in their bladder and bowel movement and weakness of arms and legs. In some cases, the patients do not show any symptoms initially. Hence it becomes difficult to diagnose the condition initially.  
The early signs of cervical myelopathy are:
  • Tendency to drop objects increases
  • Handwriting changes
  • Numbness

Late signs of cervical myelopathy:
  • Changes in bladder and bowel movement
  • Imbalance while walking

How is the condition diagnosed?
  Changes in the body strength prompt patients to seek medical advice for the condition. A doctor usually asks for the changes a person experiences and recommends an X-ray which helps to establish the exact cause. One may be asked to go for advanced level tests such as MRI or CT scans which help to confirm spinal cord compression.
Surgical treatment:
Cervical myelopathy is a progressive disease which can cause irreversible damage to the spinal cord. Surgical treatments have been considered to be most effective for cervical myelopathy treatment because it improves the functional outcomes and the pain one experiences. Early intervention can help to prevent the irreversible destructive changes to the spinal cord. Surgery is considered as the most effective choice for treatment if a patient is open to it. Unfortunately, it is a progressive disease, and this is why it is considered as a surgical disorder.
Early symptoms of cervical myelopathy include weakness/ numbness in the arms and legs, changes in coordination and problems with balance. It is important to take these changes seriously and seek medical advice. If timely treatment is not sought, the spinal cord can become more compressed and can lead to severe consequences such as paralysis in one or more limbs. When the symptoms become obvious and persistent, treatments other than surgery seem ineffective. The goal of the surgery is to relieve compression of the spinal cord so that further damage can be prevented.

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