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Myelopathy

OverviewTreatments

Symptoms

Myelopathy is often first detected as difficulty walking because of weakness or problems with balance and coordination.

Description 

Myelopathy is the loss of spinal cord function caused by degenerative changes or trauma. It occurs more commonly in the elderly. Myelopathy may be caused by bone spurs or disc herniations in the cervical or thoracic spine that squeeze the spinal cord. This compression can cause irreversible injury to the spinal cord with serious disability to the patient.

Surgery is usually offered as an early option for people with myelopathy who have evidence of muscle weakness that is being caused by nerve root or spinal cord compression. This is because muscle weakness is an indicator that the spinal cord and nerves are being injured. Surgery is not for everyone.

Myelopathy: Full Description

Myelopathy is the loss of spinal cord function caused by degenerative changes to the spine or by trauma. It is often first detected as difficulty walking because of weakness or problems with balance and coordination. This process occurs more commonly in the elderly, who can have many reasons for having problems with walking and balance. Myelopathy may be caused by bone spurs or disc herniations in the cervical or thoracic spine that squeeze the spinal cord. Trauma or instability may also play a role in myelopathy. This compression can cause irreversible injury to the spinal cord with serious disability to the patient. Patients exhibiting signs of myelopathy often are considered urgent surgical candidates.

Screening and Diagnosis for Myelopathy

Myelopathy can be difficult to detect, because this problem usually develops gradually. Many people with myelopathy will begin to have difficulty with things that require coordination. Examples include walking up or down stairs, buttoning shirts or tying shoes. If you have a history of neck pain and problems similar to these, you should consult a doctor.

Treatments for Myelopathy

If pain is present, the source of pain should be identified. Surgery is usually offered as an early option for people with myelopathy who have evidence of muscle weakness that is being caused by nerve root or spinal cord compression. This is because muscle weakness is an indicator that the spinal cord and nerves are being injured. Relieving the pressure on the nerves and spinal cord may give the best chance for recovery. Surgery is not for everyone. Mild myelopathy or pain related to myelopathy may be treated early with physical therapy and/or medication. However, these will not usually address the structural problem creating the myelopathy. Your surgeon will be able to discuss the risks and benefits of surgery with you and what the likely results are of operative versus non-operative treatment.

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