I have some pressure on my spinal cord from bone spurs and compressed discs in the neck area. I heard that if this doesn't get better, there could be permanent damage to my spinal cord. Is that true?
You may have a condition called cervical spondylotic myelopathy sometimes shortened to cervical myelopathy. Disc degeneration and vertebral compression reduce the normal height of the spine. This puts increased pressure on the discs and facet (spinal) joints, which can lead to the formation of bone spurs. The end result can be a narrowing of the spinal canal where the spinal cord is located, as well as a narrowing of the spaces where the spinal nerve roots exit the spinal canal.
These changes in the anatomical structures surrounding the spinal cord and spinal nerve roots results in neck and arm pain, numbness, and tingling from pressure on the neural structures. Sometimes people have these changes (as seen on X-rays taken for some other reason) without any symptoms at all. Others experience enough trouble and loss of function that they need treatment.
In all cases, CT scans have shown changes in the spinal cord. As the spondylosis (narrowing of the spinal canal) gets worse, the risk of damage and even death of the spinal cord increases. There is mild demyelination or loss of the protective covering around the spinal cord. Studies show small holes can develop in the spinal cord with loss of spinal cord cells.
All efforts should be made to manage symptoms early on to avoid progression. This is especially important because research shows that the positive results from treatment can last a long time. Patients are informed that this condition can get worse over time. You can expect long periods without problems followed by sudden flare-ups of worsening symptoms. Studies show that younger patients (less than 75 years old) and those who have not had the problem for very long have the best chance of response to treatment.
Paul G. Matz, MD, et al. The Natural History of Cervical Spondylotic Myelopathy. In Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine. August 2009. Vol. 11. No. 2. Pp. 104-111.
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