Degenerative cervical spine — overview, symptoms and treatment

By Michael Perry, M.D.

Degenerative cervical spine conditions are age-related issues affecting the neck and upper back. This area is vulnerable to damage because your cervical (upper) spine not only supports your head, but it also facilitates movement between your neck and head. Imagine how many times in one day you turn your head, nod or lean your head back to laugh — a lifetime of these movements can take its toll.

Dealing with pain and limited mobility from a degenerative cervical spine can make life more difficult than it needs to be, taking you away from loved ones and favorite activities. Educating yourself about the causes of your condition and the full range of treatment options is an important step to getting back to the life you’ve been missing.

Anatomy of the cervical spine

The cervical spine is made up of seven vertebrae, labeled C1 – C7. These vertebrae are linked by facet joints and cushioned by round discs made of cartilage. As we age, the joints and discs in the spine can dry out and lose their ability to withstand everyday activity, leading to conditions like arthritis and degenerative disc disease. Symptoms will usually be experienced in relation to nerve compression caused by displaced anatomy like herniated disc material or an arthritic bone spur.

When you go to your physician to discuss degenerative spine symptoms, he or she will most likely want to know what symptoms you feel and where these symptoms appear. Below are some common effects of a degenerative cervical spine disorder that you may articulate with your physician:

  • Pain — A compressed nerve in the cervical spine can cause pain that begins in the neck or upper back and then feels as if it is radiating or shooting down through your shoulders, arms and hands.
  • Numbness — Since spinal nerves in the cervical spine control sensation in the upper neck, back, shoulders, arms and hands, numbness in the upper body could be a sign of a degenerative spine disease in the cervical region.
  • Tingling — You may get a pins-and-needles feeling due to certain spinal nerves being partially restricted.

Treatment for a degenerative cervical spine

If your physician has diagnosed you with a degenerative cervical spine disorder and you have found that a conservative treatments like physical therapy and pain medication are not effective, you might have begun exploring surgical options. The goal of traditional open spine surgery is to access the spine and decompress nerves, but there are considerable downsides including hospitalization and long recovery period.

Laser Spine Institute is the leader in minimally invasive spine surgery, which is an alternative to traditional procedures. At our state-of-the-art outpatient facilities, surgeons decompress nerves with a small muscle-sparing incision that leads to a shorter recovery time^ and less complication.

Contact us today for a no-cost MRI review* to see if you may be a potential candidate for minimally invasive spine surgery.