Cervical spondylosis

Cervical spondylosis causes neck pain - often in the over 50s. A GP should check more serious cases affecting the spine.

Check if it's cervical spondylosis

Ageing causes wear and tear to muscles and bones – called cervical spondylosis.

Symptoms include:

  • neck and shoulder pain or stiffness – that comes and goes
  • headaches – often starting at the back of the neck

Exercise can ease cervical spondylosis symptoms

Neck pain can be helped with exercise and by improving your posture.

A pharmacist can help with cervical spondylosis

Painkillers like paracetamol and ibuprofen can help ease neck pain and stiffness.

Ask your pharmacist if they can recommend stronger painkillers if you need them.

See a GP if you have:

  • pain that's getting much worse
  • lack of co-ordination – for example trouble with tasks like buttoning a shirt
  • heaviness or weakness in your arms or legs
  • pins and needles in an arm as well as pain
  • problems walking
  • loss of bladder or bowel control

These can be signs of a more severe condition (cervical myelopathy) which can cause permanent damage to the spine if left untreated.

What happens at your appointment

Your GP will examine your neck and shoulder. They might also test your reflexes and watch you walk.

Depending on your symptoms you might be sent for other tests such as x-rays or scans.

Treatment from your GP

Treatment depends on how bad your symptoms are.

Your GP might give you more exercises to do and recommend you carry out your usual activities as much as possible.

Your GP might also prescribe a muscle relaxant or other medicine if the pain has been coming and going for a long time (chronic pain).

It usually takes a few weeks for treatment to work, although the pain and stiffness can come back.

Surgery is only considered if:

  • a nerve is being pinched by a slipped disk or bone (cervical radiculopathy)
  • there's a problem with your spinal cord (cervical myelopathy)

Surgery is not always a cure but it may stop symptoms getting worse.

Physiotherapy for cervical spondylosis

If your symptoms don't improve in a few weeks your GP might prescribe physiotherapy.

Physiotherapy from the NHS may not be available everywhere and waiting times can be long.

You can also get physiotherapy privately.

Find a registered physiotherapist

Causes of cervical spondylosis

Many people aged over 50 have cervical spondylosis as part of getting older.

You can get cervical spondylosis at any age if you have:

  • a job that involves repetitive neck movements or a lot of overhead work – like painting and decorating
  • previously had a neck injury
  • a family history of the condition

Some people have it without knowing, and without it being a problem.

Call 111

If you can’t speak to your GP or don’t know what to do next.

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