Mysterious Symptoms Can Be Caused by a Common Condition in the Neck

  • Weakness and stiffness in the arms and legs
  • An electric shock that streaks down the spine upon coughing or sneezing
  • Stumbling and lack of coordination
  • Dropping things, having trouble buttoning a shirt or turning the pages of a book

According to Neurosurgeon Michael Doyle, MD, these symptoms can all be caused by a very common, but often misdiagnosed condition in the neck. As Dr. Doyle explained, “The condition is called cervical myelopathy. It is brought on by the herniation of a disk or by bone spurs on vertebrae in the neck, which compress the spinal cord. Even though the problem can lead to a number of symptoms throughout the body, it often causes only mild symptoms in the neck, which is why it tends to be under diagnosed. A physical exam can make you suspicious of cervical myelopathy. There are, for example, prominent changes in the patient’s reflexes. The final diagnosis can be confirmed by an MRI.”

“Cervical myelopathy is usually not caused by an isolated incident,” said Dr. Doyle, “but tends to develop over time. It is more prevalent in older adults, but is sometimes seen in young people. It should always be considered when patients, even young patients, present with these symptoms.”

State-of-the-Art Surgery Produces Excellent Results

Treatment for cervical myelopathy usually requires surgery. “The good news is that the condition is completely treatable if you catch it before damage to the spinal cord becomes permanent,” said Dr. Doyle. The procedure is an anterior decompression of the spinal cord with reconstruction of the spinal column. “New instrumentation and techniques produce remarkable results and restoration of function,” explained Dr. Doyle. “The surgery is usually done on an outpatient basis. Depending on the individual case, we may remove the damaged disk and fuse the vertebrae above and below it or we may implant an artificial disk that has recently been approved by the FDA. The implant, when it is appropriate, can maintain greater flexibility and a wider range of motion.” He added, “Following surgery, physical therapy can be very helpful in building flexibility, strength and coordination.”

Interested in hearing more from Dr. Doyle? Visit and choose the “Meet Our New Surgeons” tab to view a video interview with our neurosurgical expert.