Cervical spondylosis. An update.
Cervical spondylosis is caused by degenerative disc disease and usually produces intermittent neck pain in middle-aged and elderly patients. This pain usually responds to activity modification, neck immobilization, isometric exercises, and medication. Neurologic symptoms occur infrequently, usually in patients with congenital spinal stenosis. For these patients, magnetic resonance imaging is the preferred initial diagnostic study. Because involvement of neurologic structures on imaging studies may be asymptomatic, consultation with a neurologist is advised to rule out other neurologic diseases. In most cases of spondylotic radiculopathy, the results of conservative treatment are so favorable that surgical intervention is not considered unless pain persists or unless there is progressive neurologic deficit. If indicated, a surgical procedure may be done through the anterior or posterior cervical spine; results are gratifying, with long-term improvement in 70% to 80% of patients. Cervical spondylotic myelopathy is the most serious and disabling condition of this disease. Because many patients have nonprogressive minor impairment, neck immobilization is a reasonable treatment in patients presenting with minor neurologic findings or in whom an operation is contraindicated. This simple remedy will result in improvement in 30% to 50% of patients. Surgical intervention is indicated for patients presenting with severe or progressive neurologic deficits. Anterior cervical approaches are generally preferred, although there are still indications for laminectomy. Surgical results are modest, with good initial results expected in about 70% of patients. Functional outcome noticeably declines with long-term follow-up, which raises the question of whether, and how much, surgical treatment affects the natural course of the disease. Prospective randomized studies are needed to answer these questions.
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