Cervical osteochondrosis: causes, types, symptoms and treatment methods

If you list the symptoms of cervical osteochondrosis - almost every adult will say that he felt them. This disease really has a significant prevalence: in developed countries, osteochondrosis occurs in 60-80% of the population. In order to distinguish whether a person really has cervical osteochondrosis or is it a manifestation of another condition, it is necessary to have information about this pathology. The article describes the causes of the disease, its features and manifestations, methods of diagnosis and treatment. Possessing information about the pathology, patients will be able to recognize it in themselves and seek help in a timely manner.

what is cervical osteochondrosis

What is cervical osteochondrosis?

The disease is degenerative and damages the structures of the spine by primary and secondary mechanisms. The pathogenetic mechanism of the pathology is that the structure of the vertebral junction is damaged.

Normally, between these areas there is an interlayer - pulpous tissue. It absorbs the spine and optimizes the movement process. With cervical osteochondrosis, this soft substance calcifies and turns into hard ossified tissue. This damages the nerve endings and blood vessels, disrupting their function.

Depending on the level of the lesion, osteochondrosis can be manifested by pain or increased pressure, impaired consciousness or numbness of the tongue. This may be chest or back symptoms. This greatly complicates the diagnostic process. Patients can undergo several diagnostic consultations before they get to a specialized specialist. In the process of making a diagnosis, several techniques are used that allow to exclude pathology from other organs and systems.

Gradually, cervical osteochondrosis "gets younger" and is more and more common in young patients. modern young people start to experience neck problems much earlier than their parents.

Osteochondrosis is a degeneration of the cervical spine, which is usually considered from two positions:

  • Physiological changes. Indeed, cartilage degeneration is a natural part of development, which is regulated by neuro-endocrine mechanisms and is irreversible. The process starts from the center of the pulpous layer and gradually moves to the periphery. The soft tissue is replaced by fibrous fibrous elements. Such a process practically does not bother the patient and manifests itself only when it affects the nerve endings.
  • Pathological changes. Destruction of the vertebrae as a result of exposure to a complex of factors. This process is ahead of physiological changes and leads to dysfunction of the spine. Symptoms almost always accompany this condition, because they spread beyond the cartilaginous structure and damage the nerve endings and blood vessels.

The course of the disease can be of a different nature: sometimes the pathology is independently compensated for, or vice versa - there are periods of exacerbations. Simultaneously with the pathological process, compensation mechanisms are activated, which temporarily prolong the function of the vertebrae and eliminate symptoms.

However, the further course of the disease leads to the destruction of the fibrous ring, the appearance of microcracks. The vertebrae lose stability and fixation, which is manifested by the clinical picture of the disease.

In addition, cervical osteochondrosis is the impregnation of the pulp of the intervertebral space with calcium. This forms a kind of hernia, because the damaged vertebra is pressed into the body of the neighboring one. These structures wear out and result in massive ossification of adjacent structures.

The course of cervical osteochondrosis has several stages:

  • Stage 1 - instability of the vertebral structures and disruption of the discs;
  • Stage 2 - reduced fixation of the spine and disc protrusion;
  • Stage 3 - rupture of the annulus fibrosus, severe symptoms and pain;
  • Stage 4 is accompanied by difficulty in movement, acute pain and widespread bone tissue.

Features of the anatomical location of muscles and blood vessels - make the neck a vulnerable part of the body. The long course of osteochondrosis leads to numerous complications, including those of a vascular nature. Many of them can cause significant harm to the patient's health and pose a pronounced risk.

what does cervical osteochondrosis of the vertebrae look like


The danger of cervical osteochondrosis is that it does not show symptoms for a long time. This is facilitated by masking the signs of the disease under another pathology, as well as self-administration of analgesic drugs. This makes the diagnosis of cervical osteochondrosis long and difficult. It is important not to delay the diagnosis until the structure of the vertebrae is replaced by bone tissue.

Let's consider the main groups of symptoms that occur in osteochondrosis of the cervical spine and their features.


As mentioned above, most of the symptoms of osteochondrosis can be characteristic of other conditions. So, dizziness is accompanied by vascular pathologies of the central nervous system, lesions of the hearing system, malfunctions of the vestibular apparatus, cardiovascular diseases. Dizziness is accompanied by intoxication, inflammatory processes. It is important to consider the overall clinical picture, rather than individual symptoms. Also, you should learn to distinguish between the main types of dizziness for the reasons of its occurrence.

With osteochondrosis of the cervical spine, a systemic type of dizziness occurs. It seems to the patient that the surrounding objects begin to move. Such a disorder can be observed after a head and neck injury, as well as against the background of diseases of the vestibular apparatus.


Again, it is extremely difficult to call this symptom specific. Pain in the head can accompany overwork, increased pressure, and serious acute conditions. With osteochondrosis, headache occurs as a result of compression of the nerve endings. This leads to spasm of the arteries that supply blood to the brain, as well as to an increase in pressure in the central nervous system. The result is a pronounced headache sensation.

The peculiarities of the headache in this case are a dull character and a feeling of pulsation. Sometimes the pain syndrome can manifest itself in seizures, and sometimes it is permanent. The parameters of pain in osteochondrosis resemble the features of that in hypertension, angina pectoris. Differences in headache in cardiological pathology are that it is accompanied by pain in the chest, heart rhythm disturbances, changes in the ECG. Therefore, only a doctor can finally determine the cause of the pain.

Pain syndrome of various localization

Besides the headache, the patient often has neck pain. This is called cervicalgia and is a complication of osteochondrosis. Painful sensations can radiate to the upper limb. Patients note that pain in the hands occurs after waking up, against the background of sudden movements. Painful sensations go away on their own after a short rest.

The following are the characteristic features of pain in cervical osteochondrosis:

  • unpleasant sensations are localized in the deep tissues of the neck;
  • head turns are often accompanied by pain and crunching;
  • muscle weakness, numbness, cold hands are observed.

Most often, osteochondrosis of the neck affects the two lower vertebrae - 6 and 7. For a little self-diagnosis, this method is recommended. It is necessary to pay attention to the combination of pain in the neck and in the fingers. Most often, if the 6th vertebra is affected, the pain will be felt in the thumb, and changes in the 7th vertebra are accompanied by discomfort in the middle finger.

Blood pressure changes

This symptom appears when changes in the vertebrae affect nerve endings and blood vessels. How to distinguish this phenomenon from hypertension? First of all, hypertension with cervical osteochondrosis is not a constant phenomenon and has its own jumps during the day.

Osteochondrosis consists of the following syndromes:

  • Vertebral. It is also called vertebral, which indicates that bones and cartilage tissue are involved in the pathological process. This leads to the formation of such symptoms: limitation of motor activity of the neck, pain when turning it, radiological changes in the image of the cervical spine. It is the simultaneous appearance of these signs that is the vertebral syndrome.
  • Vertebral artery syndrome. It appears when the vascular bundles are involved in the process, which are responsible for the blood supply to the tissues of the central nervous system. Symptoms indicate that the brain tissue has ceased to receive the proper amount of nutrients. How to recognize this syndrome? The first signs are dizziness, a feeling of tinnitus, changes in blood pressure, the appearance of a "veil" in front of the eyes. This suggests that one of the vertebral arteries is in a compressed state. Each vessel has its own nerve endings. If you squeeze those that innervate the vertebral artery - migraine, numbness, short-term decrease in vision on one side will appear. As a result, changes in the vessel lead to the fact that the brain needs oxygen. At this time, a person feels drowsiness, short-term disturbances of consciousness, loses attention and control, works worse and remembers information. With such a clinical picture, it is necessary to differentiate cervical osteochondrosis with atherosclerosis of the vertebral arteries, and compression by a tumor or inflammation.
  • Cardiac syndrome. It is manifested by a burning sensation in the chest area, the appearance of shortness of breath. The person feels his or her rapid heartbeat, becomes tired and irritable. This picture is also typical for cardiological pathology, for example, for angina pectoris, coronary syndrome, heart attack. An accurate conclusion about the causes of such symptoms can be made after the patient undergoes an ECG.
  • Radicular Syndrome. The cervical region innervates 8 pairs of nerves, each of which has roots - the place where the nerve exits from the vertebra. When they are involved in osteochondrosis, the patient feels a decrease in sensitivity or vice versa - severe pain. There may be numbness in the occiput, whether it is painful, decreased sensitivity of the tongue, behind the ear, pain in the supraclavicular region. Sometimes there are violations of swallowing, movements in the upper limb girdle, numbness of the fingers.
neck osteochondrosis syndromes

Causes of cervical osteochondrosis

The main reason for the development of osteochondrosis is the incorrect distribution of the load on the spinal column. The reasons can be different - a person can carry a bag or a weight in one hand, take the wrong posture when sitting or sleeping on an uneven surface. Both a high cushion and shoes that do not match the anatomical features of the foot increase the load. Such reasons may seem insignificant, but they act for a long time and, as a result, lead to a logical consequence in the form of osteochondrosis.

Some of the risk factors that increase the likelihood of illness:

  • low level of physical activity;
  • increased body weight;
  • past spinal injuries;
  • poor posture or pathology of the foot;
  • decreased blood supply to the cervical spine.

All this leads to the formation of an incorrect position of the vertebrae. Weight is not evenly distributed to all parts of the cervical spine, and some of its parts carry heavy loads. The response is tissue change.

To one degree or another, the situation can be aggravated by:

  1. A serious illness or injury that has led to a debilitated state of health;
  2. Frequent stress;
  3. Disorders of metabolism in the body, reduced consumption of microelements, their increased consumption or lack of absorption in the intestine;
  4. Occupational diseases (in particular, vibration sickness);
  5. Hereditary tendency to osteochondrosis;
  6. Scoliosis and other disorders of the musculoskeletal system;
  7. Violation of drinking regime;
  8. Poor food and bad habits;
  9. Pregnancy.

As you can see, there is no single cause of osteochondrosis. There is only a set of factors that can provoke it. Again, the same cause affects different people in different ways. The state of health, duration, intensity and number of risk factors, background pathologies, mode of life play a role.

neck pain with cervical osteochondrosis

Modern methods of treatment

Before starting therapy, the patient must modify the way of life. for this it is necessary to change the level of stress experienced by the cervical spine. You need to monitor the quality of nutrition, allocate the necessary time for sleep and rest, and take care of stress. if there is a background pathology in the body that aggravates the course of osteochondrosis, it is necessary to undergo a course of treatment and eliminate it. The choice of treatment method depends on the stage of osteochondrosis and the patient's well-being.

Treatment can be:

  • non-drug;
  • medicated;
  • surgical.

Alternative methods and rehabilitation measures are also considered separately.

Non-drug methods of treatment consist in the use of therapeutic exercises, special simulators or devices, manual therapy, as well as physiotherapy techniques. Correct prescription helps to improve blood supply to the vertebrae or slow down the ossification process.

As for manual therapy or massage, be sure to consult with your doctor about their appropriateness. You should not independently prescribe these techniques to yourself. At some stages of osteochondrosis, massage can only harm and lead to long immobilization. When done as indicated, manual therapy can relieve symptoms and improve the patient's well-being.

Of the physiotherapeutic methods for cervical osteochondrosis, the following are used:

  1. magnetic therapy;
  2. medicinal baths;
  3. healing shower;
  4. mud therapy;
  5. electrophoresis.

The use of medication is indicated when the situation worsens. Many of them eliminate inflammation and sharp pain, improve tissue blood supply, restore cartilage structures, and provide joint mobility. This is an integrated approach to the causes and symptoms, and not a one-sided solution to the problem. After taking the right medication, the patient again gets the opportunity to move the neck, ceases to experience irritation, worsened mood, and returns to normal work and sleep.

Consider the groups of drugs that are used for cervical osteochondrosis:

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs

They are used to reduce inflammation in tissues, eliminate pain, relieve compression of roots and blood vessels. With minor symptoms, ointments and gels are used, a more intense pain syndrome is stopped by tablet forms. Injection administration is prescribed for severe pain intensity and its sharp onset.

They may have other trade names, but the active ingredient remains unchanged. The patient should take medications in a course, only after the approval of the attending doctor. Please note that these products must be taken after meals as they can irritate the lining of the gastrointestinal tract.


Their function is vasodilation, which are narrowed against the background of the course of osteochondrosis. Preparations - pentoxifylline, actovegin, berlition. These drugs will relieve vertebral artery syndrome, improve blood flow to the vertebrae and improve the patient's well-being. It is necessary to monitor the absence of contraindications to these substances in the patient, as well as their compatibility with other drugs that a person takes.

Muscle relaxants

The purpose of this group is to reduce the spasm of the neck muscles. This speeds up and optimizes the treatment process, since muscle tension acts both on the vessels and on the nerve endings. Regular intake normalizes vascular tone, reduces the sensation of pain.


It is used to improve the condition of the cartilaginous elements of the spine and to protect their structure from destruction. Long-term intake of these substances is necessary, otherwise they will not have the desired effect. Patients may not like the fact that the effect occurs only after 6 months of use. However, if this effect is achieved, it will be persistent and will significantly improve the clinical picture.


Used as an auxiliary substance in order to eliminate depressive symptoms and stress. In mild cases, valerian, motherwort, mint and lemon balm are used. If depression progresses, more serious substances are needed. They will improve sleep and mood, and help the patient to tune in to effective treatment.


The intake of B vitamins is recommended. They can be obtained from food - this way of introducing vitamins is the most physiological and does not carry a special load on the liver. If vitamin deficiency or hypovitaminosis is observed, vitamin complexes and preparations can be used. This will improve sensitivity and innervation, accelerate the process of tissue repair.

Since the treatment process is long and brings the effect gradually, all stages of medication are important. Be sure to store medicines in the correct place as indicated on the packaging. If it says on the box that you need to store medicines in a dark or cool place, do so, otherwise the drug will lose its properties. Observe the duration of the course and the frequency of use - some substances tend to accumulate in the body, and only then have the desired effect.

If the route of administration is injection, the procedure should be carried out by a medical staff or a trained person, because correct administration increases efficiency. Tablet forms must be taken after meals with water. Pay attention to this point, as other fluids are not suitable for this. The combination of grapefruit juice and drugs is especially dangerous - the enzymes contained in this fruit slow down the liver and reduce the delivery of drugs to the tissues.

massage for cervical osteochondrosis

Surgical treatment of cervical osteochondrosis

This method is used when cervical osteochondrosis has led to a narrowing of the lumen of the spinal column. This can occur as a result of a herniated or protruding disc. Narrowing of the canal is accompanied by significant vascular stenosis and compression of the nerve bundles. If an isolated herniated disc is observed, this is also an indication for surgery. The operation is necessary for spondylolisthesis - displacement of the vertebrae from the axis. In addition to these indications, the doctor pays attention to the patient's quality of life, his condition, and the severity of symptoms.

Types of surgical interventions:

  • support fusion. The bottom line is to eliminate the damaged disc and replace it with a movable joint, a prosthesis that performs the function of a removed structure;
  • dynamic stabilization of the spine. A silicone implant is inserted between the spinous processes along the spine, which correctly distributes the load and stabilizes the vertebrae;
  • vaporization of the disc core using a laser beam. This is a modern technique that shows good results. The laser acts on the nucleus of the disc, reducing its size and eliminating the hernia. The intervention is atraumatic and can be performed under local anesthesia. However, the range of indications for such manipulation is limited; it can be done only at that stage. when the size of the hernia is not more than 6 mm. This once again emphasizes why it is beneficial to see a doctor early and make a timely diagnosis.

Surgery takes place in a hospital setting. Depending on the degree of complexity of the treatment, the duration of the postoperative period and rehabilitation differs. Surgical intervention implies an additional set of medications - medications for patient preparation, analgesics, antibiotic therapy for the prevention of septic complications.


The beginning of the diagnosis - the patient's visit to the doctor and the listing of symptoms. The doctor listens to the patient's complaints, details them, forms syndromes from the symptoms. Also, the specialist needs details about the clinical manifestations: the time of onset, whether the treatment methods were used and what effect they had, the nature of the pain, periods of increased pressure, and more. Information about an uncomfortable posture during sleep, work, bad habits, background diseases is also important. All this is clarified during the conversation.

Radiography is performed in frontal and lateral projections. A functional X-ray is done at the same time as the neck rotations. Contrasting of the spinal canal is used in order to better visualize the affected areas. The contrast can be injected into the vessel or the disc itself, depending on which the method is called angiography or discography. in the picture you can see tissue compaction, calcification deposits, displacement of the structures of the spine.

As far as magnetic resonance imaging is concerned, this is the most informative method, which is also painless and fast. The doctor can see the damage and determine the severity of the process. Tomograph scans will help the surgeon prepare for the operation, identify hernia, changes in nerve endings and blood vessels.

MRI is performed in the absence of contraindications, which are metal objects in the body, claustrophobia. pregnancy.

Computed tomography also provides an accurate diagnostic picture. The study does not take much time - about 10 minutes and does not require special preparation. The radiation exposure during this study is small, which makes the tomography safe for health. Contraindications - pregnancy and lactation, childhood.

In addition to methods that allow visualizing the pathological process, it is necessary to use additional diagnostic manipulations.

These include ultrasound examination of the vessels of the head and neck. The indications for diagnosis are dizziness, headache, pressure drops. a specialist will determine the patency of blood vessels and the state of blood flow. The most informative method, in this case, is a duplex scanning of blood vessels.


As you can see, cervical osteochondrosis has a diverse clinic, many syndromes and requires a serious approach in both diagnosis and treatment. If you pay attention to your feelings, listen to the body and respond to its signals, an early diagnosis is possible. In the early stages of the disease, treatment has a high effect.

To do this, you need to contact a specialized specialist and go through the necessary research methods. High-quality and timely treatment will avoid complications, improve well-being and quality of life, eliminate depression and normalize sleep. Tune in to a positive mood and you will be able to feel freedom of movement again.