Aging Effects on the Spine
When we mention aging in the cervical spine, we are indicating the wear and tear in your cervical spine. The normal process of wear and tear can cause the neck pain resulting in degenerative conditions. If you are lucky, you might not develop the degenerative state in the spine that can cause neck pain.
Let’s start by trying to understand the cervical spine anatomy. The cervical spine is made of 7 vertebrae in the spine, often known as C1-C7 vertebras. This refers to cervical spine vertebrae from levels 1-7 in the cervical spine (in the neck). C1 is the vertebrae closet to the skull and C7 is the vertebrae near the thoracic area of the spine (chest/rib cage).
If you are starting to display degenerative process in your cervical spine, you might notice neck pain, back pain near the shoulder blades, difficulty with walking or hand dexterity, and arm complaints of pain, numbness, or weakness.
Degenerative Cervical Spine Conditions
These conditions may affect one joint in the cervical spine but as time proceeds other joints can also see degenerative changes.
Osteoarthritis (Degenerative joint disease)
In osteoarthritis, the intervertebral disc may be initially affected but over time the disc narrows due to the vertebrae enclosing on the disc. At this time, the movement is altered and adjacent joints apply abnormal pressure and forces causing degenerative arthritis. The bone on bone action can also cause inflammation in the joint.
This form of neck pain indicates degenerative changes causing radiating pain into the shoulder and down the arm to your hand. The degeneration may cause a bone spur causing nerve root compression resulting in pain or weakness in the arm.
Even though a rare condition, important to understand that difficulty swallowing can be due to bony growths in front of the spine (large anterior osteophytes).
How to Diagnose Degenerative Cervical Spine Conditions
After personal and family medical history, the doctor will perform a physical examination (neurological and shoulder examination), to determine if further testing or viewing is necessary. The diagnostic tools such as X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, Myelogram, and Discography are the common resources.
How to treat Degenerative Cervical Spine Disorders
Non-surgical and multidisciplinary approach in cervical treatment options include: Immobilizations, physical therapy, chiropractic manipulations, and medications.
Surgical approach to cervical degenerative disorders occurs when the non-surgical treatment options fail to reduce symptoms, cause of spinal cord dysfunction, and prolonged pain or weakness. Surgery removes bone spurs, fuses cervical vertebra, discectomy, and sculpted graft.