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Cervical Spinal Cord Compression


patient with Cervical Spinal Cord Compression

Your spinal cord is comprised of a bundle of nerves that carry messages back and forth from your brain to your muscles and other soft tissues. A stack of backbones called vertebrae surrounds these nerves to protect them. The cervical spine is comprised of the top seven vertebrae, located in the neck area. When pressure is put on the vertebrae in this area, the result can be cervical spinal cord compression.


Cervical spinal cord compression can occur for a number of different reasons. One of the most common causes of spinal cord compression is the gradual wear and tear on the bones of the spine, known as osteoarthritis. People who develop spinal cord compression from this are usually older than 50.


Other conditions that may cause spinal cord compression usually develop more quickly – sometimes very suddenly – and can occur at any age. These conditions include:


  • Injury to the cervical spine
  • Scoliosis (abnormal spine alignment)
  • Bone disease
  • Spinal tumor
  • Certain bone diseases
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Infection


In general, symptoms of cervical spinal cord compression include:

  • Pain and stiffness in the neck, back, or lower back
  • Burning pain that spreads to the arms, buttocks, or down into the legs (sciatica)
  • Numbness, cramping, or weakness in the arms, hands, or legs
  • Loss of sensation in the feet
  • Difficulty with hand coordination
  • Weakness in a foot that causes a limp (also called “foot drop”)
  • Loss of sexual ability


When the compressed nerves affect the lumbar region, serious symptoms called cauda equina syndrome. If any of the following symptoms occur, you should seek immediate medical treatment:

  • Loss of bowel or bladder control
  • Severe or increasing numbness between the legs, inner thighs, and back of the legs
  • Severe pain and weakness that spreads into one or both legs


Depending on the underlying cause and symptoms, may involve medication, physical therapy, injections, and/or surgery. Except in cases of an emergency condition such as cauda equina syndrome or a broken back, surgery is typically the last resort.


  • Medicines may include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for relief of pain and swelling, as well as steroid injections that reduce swelling.
  • Physical therapy generally includes exercises to strengthen your back, abdominal, and leg muscles. Braces to support your back or a cervical collar may also be recommended.


Surgical treatments include removing any bone spurs and widening the space between vertebrae. Other procedures may be done to relieve pressure on the spine or repair fractured vertebrae.

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