Myelopathy is a spinal cord dysfunction related to abnormal pressure placed on the spinal cord. Unlike conditions that cause pressure on individual nerve roots, this type of damage can result in loss of nerve function anywhere along the spinal cord below the damaged area. It is one of the most common causes of neck pain in people over 55 years of age in the US.
Myelopathy most commonly results from pressure on the spinal cord because of a reduction in the space available for the cord. The effects can range from mild to severe, and generally worsen over time. The most common symptom of Myelopathy is neck stiffness. Myelopathy symptoms progress slowly over many years, and may not become evident until your spinal cord has been compressed by at least 30%.
People with myelopathy may have trouble with activities that require some degree of coordination, such as typing shoes or walking down stairs. It is not uncommon to have problems with balance, walking, or muscle weakness. These symptoms may be mild at first and go unnoticed or at least not be a cause of concern. You should consult your doctor if you notice changes in coordination, sudden muscle weakness, or inability to control your body in ways you used to be able to do.
The first step in diagnosing myelopathy is a medical history and physical exam. Your doctor will look specifically for problems with your reflexes, particularly to see whether you have an exaggerated or overactive reflex. Your doctor will also check for muscle weakness particularly in your arms, and numbness in your arms and hands. Depending on your doctor’s findings, additional testing may be required.
If your myelopathy is mild, your doctor may recommend a brace to immobilize your neck, exercises to improve neck strength and flexibility, and manipulation (Chiropractic adjustments).