While it sounds like a scary diagnosis, cervical spondylosis is essentially wear and tear in the neck. This degenerative condition can affect the joints, discs and ligaments in the cervical portion of your spine and is extremely common. In fact, according to the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 50 percent of individuals over age 40 and 85 percent of those over age 60 have cervical spondylosis.
Understanding your symptoms, such as neck pain, and altering your sleeping and exercise routines can improve your chances of going about your day without pain.
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What Symptoms Does It Cause?
According to the Cleveland Clinic, many middle-aged and older individuals with cervical spondylosis have no symptoms whatsoever. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. In some instances, upper back degeneration may cause symptoms like neck pain, headaches, stiffness, clicking or grinding, and cervical vertigo or dizziness.
In rarer cases, the degeneration can affect the spinal cord or the nerves that come off it. In this scenario, cervical spondylosis may cause numbness or tingling into the arms, weakness in your arms or legs or difficulty controlling your bowel or bladder. These symptoms may indicate a significant medical issue and should be immediately reported to your physician.
Who Is at Risk?
While cervical spondylosis is often due to aging, there are certain things that may increase your likelihood of getting it. People who have a family history of neck pain, smoke or have depression or anxiety are at a higher risk of developing the condition.
In addition, careers that involve repetitive neck movements or a lot of overhead lifting make developing spondylosis more likely. Sustaining a traumatic neck injury may also predispose you to it later in life.
Cervical Spondylosis Exercises
Cervical spondylosis exercises that focus on strengthening the muscles in the neck and shoulder blades can be helpful in relieving pain and improving your overall function. These muscles not only support the spine, but also help improve your posture and decrease the strain on the neck throughout the day.
If the degeneration in your neck is causing pain, try a few exercises:
Do Prone Rows
HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your stomach with your arm hanging off the side of a bed and your elbow straight. Then, make a rowing motion by bringing your arm toward the ceiling as you allow your elbow to bend. As you do this, squeeze your shoulder blade down and back without shrugging your shoulder. Hold for a second or two before returning to the starting position.
If it feels easy, you can hold on to a light weight while you do the exercise. After two to three sets of 10 repetitions, use the opposite arm.
Strengthen With Chin Tucks
Chin tucks are an easy way to strengthen your deep cervical flexor muscles. These muscles stabilize the spine and help you avoid the forward head posture that stresses the muscles and joints in your neck.
HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your back with your arms by your side. Without tensing your shoulder muscles, nod your chin inward as though giving yourself a double chin. Hold this position for 10 seconds before releasing it.
When the chin tucks get easy, enhance the exercise by lifting your head off the ground slightly without losing your original tuck. Maintain this position for 10 seconds and try two to three sets of 10 repetitions each day.
Try the Robbery Exercise
HOW TO DO IT: Stand with both arms hanging straight down at your sides. Then, lift your arms out to the side at shoulder height with your elbows bent at 90 degree angles as though you're being held up by a robber.
As you do this, squeeze your shoulder blades down and back and hold for 5 to 10 seconds before relaxing. Again, try two to three sets of 10 repetitions each day.
Stretch Your Pecs
Consistently sitting in a slumped, rounded shoulder posture can lead to tightness in your chest muscles and a strain on the neck. Stretching your pecs helps restore proper muscle balance in the cervical region.
HOW TO DO IT: Stand in a corner with your arms out to the side and over your head in the shape of a wide "V." With one palm on each wall, slowly lean forward until you feel a pull in your chest and the front of your shoulder. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds before releasing the tension and repeat it three to five times.
What’s the Best Sleeping Position?
In addition to doing exercises, it's important to make sure you keep your neck in a good position while you sleep. This helps to decrease the strain on the cervical spine and can minimize pain. According to Harvard Health Publishing, the best sleeping position for cervical spondylosis and other types of neck pain is on your back or your side.
Back sleepers should try using a rounded pillow that supports the natural contours of their neck. A smaller, flatter pillow can also be used under your head to add some cushioning. If you prefer sleeping on your side, try using pillows that keep your neck and spine straight instead of putting your head in a side-bent position all night long.
Warnings and Precautions
In many instances, making the recommended changes to your sleeping position and starting the exercises detailed above can improve or resolve your pain. If that's not the case, however, it's important to speak to your physician.
Pain that's severe or accompanied by red flag symptoms like weakness in the arms or legs, difficulty breathing or swallowing, or bowel or bladder incontinence can indicate a more serious health concern and should be reported to your doctor immediately. This will ensure that you're properly diagnosed and receive appropriate care.
- Mayo Clinic: Cervical Spondylosis
- American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation: Cervical Stenosis
- Cleveland Clinic: Cervical Spondylosis
- Columbia University: Cervical Spondylosis
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Cervical Spondylosis (Arthritis of the Neck)
- Manual Therapy: Cervical and Scapulothoracic Stabilization Exercises With and Without Connective Tissue Massage for Chronic Mechanical Neck Pain
- International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy: A Systematic Review of the Exercises That Produce Optimal Muscle Ratios of the Scapular Stabilizers in Normal Shoulders
- American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation: The Effect of Different Exercise Programs on Size and Function of Deep Cervical Flexor Muscles in Patients With Chronic Nonspecific Neck Pain
- Journal of Athletic Training: Serratus Anterior and Lower Trapezius Muscle Activities During Multi-Joint Isotonic Scapular Exercises and Isometric Contractions
- Physical Therapy in Sport: Effects of an 8-Week Selective Corrective Exercises Program on Electromyography Activity of Scapular and Neck Muscles in Persons With Upper Crossed Syndrome
- Harvard Health Publishing: Say “Good Night” to Neck Pain
- Neurological Institute of New York: Neck Pain
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.