Cervical Myelopathy

Cervical myelopathy is a condition in which spinal cord cells in the neck region have died due to long-term compression of the spinal cord. It can cause severe and even irreversible loss of nerve function, including paralysis. Treatment for cervical myelopathy can relieve pressure on the spinal cord, alleviate symptoms, and prevent irreversible nerve damage from occurring. An early diagnosis is critical for a positive outcome.

  • Symptoms

  • Treatment


Symptoms of cervical myelopathy can include:

  • Neck pain or soreness
  • Sometimes minimal or no pain in the neck
  • Stiffness in the neck, sometimes with reduced range of motion
  • A grinding sound with certain neck movements
  • Pain, numbness, weakness, or tingling in the shoulders, arms, hands, fingers
  • Pain may be dull or sharp
  • Problems with coordination, motor function, balance, reflexes, dexterity
  • “Electric shock” nerve pain extending into the arms and legs, especially when bending forward
  • A feeling of heaviness or stiffness in the legs while walking
  • Incontinence
  • Loss of nerve function (may be irreversible)
  • Paralysis (may be irreversible)
  • Symptoms tend to worsen slowly
  • Symptoms may flare during certain activities
  • Symptoms may go through cycles of remaining stable and rapidly getting worse

Frequently Asked Questions

How is cervical myelopathy diagnosed?

Because of the dangers of prolonged spinal cord compression, getting an accurate diagnosis is critical for patients experiencing the symptoms listed above. Unfortunately, many of the symptoms of cervical myelopathy can also be caused by other conditions. This often leads to cervical myelopathy being misdiagnosed as other conditions such as peripheral neuropathy or carpal tunnel syndrome. In conjunction with evaluation of current symptoms, a confirmation of spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis, and/or degenerative spondylolisthesis (slipped disc) may help guide a diagnosis. A diagnosis of cervical myelopathy can be confirmed with a detailed history and examination, including diagnostic testing.

What causes cervical myelopathy?

Cervical myelopathy is caused by spinal stenosis, a condition where bones, discs, and/or arthritic debris compress the spinal cord. Many affected patients also have a history of arthritis. If patients with spinal stenosis do not undergo treatment to relieve compression of the spinal cord, the pressure will continue and may eventually lead to cellular death, or myelopathy.

What are the risks of not treating cervical myelopathy?

Cervical myelopathy can have major long-term consequences if left untreated. It is not the beginning of a condition, but rather a sign that an ongoing spinal condition (stenosis) has progressed to a point where spinal cord cells die. The death of spinal cord cells can cause paralysis and irreversible loss of bodily function. Timely action is critical even if the condition currently appears stable, since at any point, cervical myelopathy can rapidly worsen. If you have received a diagnosis of cervical myelopathy, it is strongly recommended that you get treatment right away to minimize the risk of permanent negative effects on your health and quality of life.

Do I need surgery for cervical myelopathy?

Most patients with cervical myelopathy will be advised to undergo surgery. Even many patients for whom cervical stenosis has not yet led to myelopathy will often need to get surgery. Surgery can relieve pressure on the spinal cord and prevent permanent nerve damage from occurring.