Cervical spondylolysis, also called cervical osteoarthritis, refers to the degeneration of cartilage (cushioning spongy discs in between bones) and bone in the neck region usually as a result of aging. It produces mild to severe pain in the neck, which may radiate to the shoulders and arms. There may also be neck stiffness, tingling or numbness in the shoulders and arms, or pain in the back of the head. Symptoms may be gradual or sudden in onset.
Aging can cause changes in the cervical spine: the cartilage may start to shrink and dry up, the outer layer may weaken causing a bulging or herniation of the inner layer to the outside and the neck bones may develop growths (spurs). All of these changes may compress nerve roots that exit and enter your cervical spine, affecting the transmission of signals. Cervical spondylolysis may also be the result of poor posture, work-related stress, smoking, being overweight, repetitive neck movements or injury.
To diagnose cervical spondylolysis, your doctor will review your medical history and perform a physical examination, testing the range of motion and strength of your neck. Imaging tests (X-ray, MRI and CT scans) and neurological tests (to evaluate functioning of nerves) may be ordered to confirm the diagnosis.
Cervical spondylolysis is usually managed by nonsurgical methods. Your doctor may prescribe pain relievers and muscle relaxants, and administer steroid injections. Physical therapy and traction may be recommended. Surgery is the last choice and is indicated only if conservative treatments have failed to relieve the symptoms. It is aimed at decompressing the nerve roots by removing parts of the vertebral bone and spinal discs.