As we age, the shock-absorbing disks that sit between the spinal vertebrae in the neck can become dehydrated, leading to a condition known as cervical spondylosis (CS). Due to the thinning and reduced flexibility of the disks in the neck, the patient will experience a limited range of motion which they may describe as stiffness. In fact, the Mayo Clinic reports this is very common and affects about 85% of older adults. While a stiff neck can interfere with some daily activities, it’s when CS leads to neck pain that such a patient is most likely to visit their doctor of chiropractic. Why does neck pain affect CS patients when it does?
The first explanation is that CS compromises the disk’s ability to absorb energy and to flex and extend in response to external forces. Just picture how an old rubber ball that’s been left in the sun not only has less bounce but can break if it hits the ground hard enough. Likewise, a simple fall that may not have any effect on a young neck may be much more traumatic to that of an older person. Even something as mundane as sleeping in an awkward position can leave the CS patient with a sore neck.
Another pain generator is the result of bone spurs that form in response to the vertebrae being pulled closer to one another. This bone growth can narrow the spaces in the vertebrae the spinal nerves pass through leading to both local pain and pain referred down into the upper extremities—a conditional known as cervical myelopathy.
Currently, about 13% of adults in their third decade of life show signs of CS on X-ray. Unfortunately, with forward head posture from excessive device use that places added strain on the neck becoming more common, as well as increased obesity rates and sedentary lifestyles, there’s a great potential CS will start to become common at earlier ages. This highlights the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
When a CS patient seeks chiropractic care, their doctor of chiropractic will use information from the patient’s history, physical examination, and sometimes x-rays or other imaging tests to establish an accurate diagnosis and decide on a treatment approach. Care will typically include the application of manual therapies with at-home exercises to try and restore as much movement to the neck as possible. In more challenging cases, they may work in coordination with the patient’s medical doctor or a specialist or other healthcare provider.