Cervical spondylosis (spon-dee-low-sis) can be thought of as "grey hair" of the spine. This means that if you live long enough (and that may only mean forty- to fifty-years of age in some populations) x-rays of your spine will eventually show signs of cervical spondylosis.
As described above, the term refers to osteophytes (os-t-o-fights), or bony overgrowths, that protrude from the vertebral bodies as well as narrowing occurring across the disc spaces as the disc degenerates. Though they can compress the spinal cord (like Mrs. S) or a spinal nerve root (like Mr. D), the vast majority of these osteophytes do not cause any nerve problems. They are a sign, however, that the disc between the vertebrae and the facets (fah-sets) has become degenerative.
Degenerative discs can cause pain. The mechanism of pain is, unfortunately, not well understood. It is thought to be transmitted by tiny nerve endings that innervate the back part of the disc and facet joints. Degeneration can cause pain from the disc, facet joint, or both concomitantly. Diagnostic efforts are aimed to determine which of these structures are the pain generators. Therapy is directed to relieving stresses being placed on these areas.
The complexity of the cervical (neck) anatomy and its wide range of motion make this spinal segment susceptible to disorders associated with degenerative change. Neck pain from spondylosis is common. The pain may spread into the shoulder or down the arm. When a bone spur (osteophyte) causes nerve root compression, extremity (eg, arm) weakness may result. In rare cases, bone spurs that form at the front of the cervical spine, may cause difficult swallowing (dysphagia).