Cervical Spondylosis: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments

Arthritis of the neck, also known as cervical spondylosis, is when your neck starts to wear down over time. It might make your neck ache, hurt, or feel stiff.

Doctors can’t make it go away completely, but they can help stop it from getting worse. And the good news is, you can also do things to take care of your neck. Most of the time, cervical spondylosis doesn’t cause any problems. But if it does, there are treatments that don’t involve surgery.

Now, let’s dive into more details in this article.


“Cervical spondylosis” is a way of saying that the neck bones are wearing out. The neck has seven bones stacked on top of each other, and when these bones start to wear out, it’s called spondylosis. Sometimes, doctors also call it osteoarthritis or arthritis of the neck.

Lots of people have cervical spondylosis, especially as they get older. In fact, more than 85% of people over 60 years old have it.

The bones in the neck, along with discs, joints, and ligaments, all work together to keep the neck stable, movable, and to protect the spinal cord and nerves.


Most people don’t feel anything, but when they do, it’s usually just neck pain and stiffness.

Sometimes, cervical spondylosis makes the space in the bones of your spine (the spinal canal) narrower. This is where the spinal cord and nerve roots travel through. If they get pinched, you might notice:

  • Tingling, numbness, and weakness in your arms, hands, legs, or feet
  • Trouble coordinating and walking
  • Problems controlling your bladder or bowels


As we get older, the parts of our backbone and neck start showing signs of wear and tear. Here are some reasons behind cervical spondylosis:

  1. Dehydrated Disks: Think of disks as cushions between the bones in your spine. By the time you hit 40, these disks start drying out and getting smaller. This means there’s more direct contact between the bones, kind of like bone-on-bone.

  2. Herniated Disks: Cracks can develop on the outside of these disks. The soft insides might squeeze through these cracks, and sometimes, they push against the spinal cord and nerves.

  3. Bone Spurs: When the disks break down, the body tries to overcompensate by making extra bone. These bone spurs can end up pinching the spinal cord and nerves.

  4. Stiff Ligaments: Ligaments are like cords that connect bone to bone. With age, spinal ligaments can become less flexible, making the neck less bendy.

So, when we talk about cervical spondylosis, we’re referring to the wear and tear of bones and disks in the neck. This can lead to problems like herniated disks and bone spurs.

Diagnosis and Tests

When a doctor checks for Cervical Spondylosis, they will start by examining your neck. They look for any bumps or knots and check:

  1. Neck flexibility: They see how well you can move your neck.
  2. Muscle strength and reflexes: This involves checking the strength of your muscles and how your reflexes respond in your hands, arms, or legs.
  3. Gait: This is how you walk.

To get more detailed pictures of your spine and to check on your muscles and nerves, the doctor may order these tests:

  1. X-ray: Uses radiation to create an image of your neck.
  2. Computed tomography (CT) scan: Takes detailed cross-sectional pictures of your spine.
  3. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan: Uses magnets and radio waves to create detailed images.
  4. Myelogram: Involves injecting a dye to make spinal cord details more visible in X-rays.
  5. Electromyography (EMG): Measures the electrical activity in muscles.
  6. Nerve conduction study: Checks how well your nerves are working.

These tests help the doctor understand the condition better and decide on the most suitable treatment.


The best treatment for cervical spondylosis is one that helps ease your symptoms. Usually, doctors start with simple, non-invasive treatments. Here are some common recommendations:

  1. Physical therapy: Exercises and stretches to improve neck mobility.
  2. Over-the-counter pain relievers: Medications you can buy without a prescription to help with pain.
  3. Applying ice or heat: Putting ice or a warm pack on your neck for 15 minutes a few times a day.
  4. Soft collar or brace: Wearing a neck brace for support.

If your neck pain is severe, your doctor might suggest more advanced treatments like:

  • Cervical epidural steroid injection: Steroid medication injected into the spine to reduce inflammation.
  • Radiofrequency ablation: Using heat to interrupt pain signals from the affected nerves.

If these treatments don’t work or if you have more serious conditions like cervical myelopathy or cervical radiculopathy, your doctor might recommend spinal fusion surgery.

It’s important to know that conservative treatments usually don’t have many side effects. However, more advanced treatments like surgery or injections may have different side effects.

Living With

To look after yourself with cervical spondylosis:

  1. Take Breaks: If you do things that strain your neck, like looking down or up for a long time, take regular breaks.

  2. Regular Exercises: Talk to your healthcare provider about exercises that can stretch and strengthen your neck muscles.

  3. Ease Pain: If you have mild neck pain, rest, and consider using ice or heat. You can also try over-the-counter pain medication.

When to See a Doctor

Sometimes, severe neck pain, especially if accompanied by other issues such as numbness in your arms, difficulty walking, or weakness in your arms or legs, could indicate a serious problem. You should seek medical help if you notice these symptoms:

  • Tingling or numbness in your arms.
  • Neck pain worsening.
  • Problems with coordination or walking.
  • Weakness or heaviness in your arms or legs.
  • Trouble controlling your bladder or bowels.

For more guidance, you may make an appointment with our online pain management consultation

Need professional help to relieve chronic pain? Book an online consultation with physical therapist Dr. Olivia Patel.

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I'm Dr. Olivia Patel, a physical therapist specializing in helping people with neck, back, and knee pain. Instead of resorting to invasive treatments or surgeries, I use natural and non-invasive remedies to help my clients alleviate their agonizing pain and regain the joy of living a pain-free life. If you're interested in learning about my approach, click the button below to schedule a call with me.