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After age 50 many patients experience disk changes that cause injury to the neck known as cervical myelopathy. *
*Source: North American Spine Society

Myelopathy Overview

Myelopathy  refers to disorders of the spinal cord that cause loss of nerve function. The most common type is cervical myelopathy, which affects the neck, also known as the cervical spine, and the upper and lower extremities (arms and legs). A less common type, thoracic myelopathy, involves the body from the chest down.

Myelopathy is often a result of spinal stenosis, in which the nerves in the spinal canal are compressed. This compression is due to disk degeneration that comes with aging and wear and tear on the neck. Other causes include neck fracture or other types of trauma, inflammation, and autoimmune disorders, tumors and ruptured or herniated disks.

Cervical myelopathy is a common source of spinal cord problems in older people. The condition tends to “creep up” over time, causing symptoms like neck discomfort and subtle changes in the way the hands work. The course of the condition varies. Some patients will experience a slow or steady deterioration in function, while a smaller percentage will experience a rapid deterioration.

If you or your primary care physician believes you might be suffering from cervical myelopathy, make an appointment to visit a WellStar neurologist as soon as possible. They are expert in diagnosing and treating myelopathy and ruling out other conditions with similar symptoms.

Cervical Myelopathy Symptoms

About half of patients with cervical myelopathy experience pain in the neck and into the arms and legs. Symptoms include weakness, stiffness, or clumsiness in the hands that can lead to difficulty with activities like using buttons or turning a doorknob. Leg issues include weakness, difficulty walking or frequent falls.

Other symptoms:

  • Increased knee and ankle reflexes (which may only be detected during a neurologic exam).
  • A feeling of unsteadiness or a wobbly gait.
  • Urinary urgency.
  • Numbness, and bladder and bowel incontinence in later stages.

Risk Factors

While there is not much one can do about wear and tear on the spine, certain factors increase the chance of developing cervical myelopathy. Among these:

  • Infections
  • Restricted blood supply, known as ischemia
  • Autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis and other conditions such as vascular disease or degenerative disease
  • A history of back or bone problems
  • Being born with a narrow spinal canal
  • Participating in work tasks or sports that involve regular stretching and straining of the spine
  • History of cancer involving the bones
  • Trauma leading to degenerative changes that affect the disks

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