As people age, lots of things can contribute to a gradual degeneration of the spine. Spondylosis (spon-duh-LO-sis) is a catch-all term for this degeneration.
When it happens in the neck, or cervical spine, it’s called cervical spondylosis.
Cervical spondylosis doesn’t always come with major symptoms. Mild cases can cause slight aches and pains.
But sometimes the degeneration is more severe. It can cause trouble for the spinal cord, or for the nerve roots as they exit the spine and branch out to the rest of the body. This is when neurosurgeons like Dr. Michael Kaiser sometimes step in.
Dr. Kaiser is Associate Director of The Spine Hospital at the Neurological Institute of New York, and he specializes in treating the troubles that can be caused by cervical spondylosis.
Of particular concern are problems having to do with the spinal cord. The spinal cord is the most important structure connecting brain and body. It is a bundle of nerves that passes down the bony channel of the spinal column. If this bony channel narrows and deteriorates with age, parts of it might start to press on the delicate nerves of the spinal cord. This pressure can damage the nerves.
Depending on which nerves are affected, patients might experience a variety of symptoms. They might feel numbness, clumsiness, weakness or pain in various areas. This is because the nerves serving those areas no longer transmit information well. Such an interruption of nerve service is called myelopathy.
It can be tough to diagnose cervical spondylotic myelopathy–that is, interruption of nerve service (myelopathy) as a result of any kind of degeneration (spondylosis) in the neck (cervical spine). (And, ok…it can be tough to say cervical spondylotic myelopathy, too.)
For one thing, the condition is tough to diagnose because its symptoms are so varied. For another, degeneration is only one possible cause of myelopathy. (Other possible causes include fractures, tumors, or diseases like multiple sclerosis.) And finally, degeneration happens all the time, only sometimes causing myelopathy.
But diagnosing and treating this condition is important. Cervical spondylotic myelopathy is the most common spinal cord disorder in Americans over 55.
Dr. Kaiser has been researching and treating this condition for many years, and he considers it important to educate his peers about it.
For the last ten years, Dr. Kaiser has organized a course on this condition for the annual meeting of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. At this year’s meeting, Dr. Kaiser and a panel of experts examined the many aspects of degeneration, reviewed treatment guidelines, and presented the latest options for surgical treatment.
Cervical spondylotic myelopathy can be tough to live with. Experts like Dr. Kaiser are constantly working to improve the condition’s diagnosis and treatment…so that one day the only challenge will be its pronunciation.
Image credit: Stillwaterising / [Wikimedia Commons]