Myelopathy is a medical condition that involves the compression of the spinal cord which prevents it from properly exchanging nerve signals with the brain and the rest of the body. Although it is not an actual injury of the spinal cord, it may lead to permanent damage if you do not receive treatment.

Learning to recognize early or even advanced symptoms of myelopathy can help you schedule a timely checkup with a doctor if you notice any signs. 

Myelopathy differs from myopathy, a muscular disorder, and radiculopathy, a pinching of the nerve root in the back. Although radiculopathy can happen in addition to myelopathy, they are separate medical conditions.

Types of Myelopathy

The type of myelopathy you are experiencing depends on the location of your compressed nerve along the spine: neck, chest, or lower back.

  • Cervical Myelopathy. This is the most common form of myelopathy and often causes neck pain. It often occurs due to degeneration of the cervical spine. 
  • Thoracic Myelopathy. This type occurs in the middle region of the spin. The nerve compression of the spinal cord usually happens due to bulging or herniated discs, trauma, or bone spurs.
  • Lumbar Myelopathy. This rarer form of myelopathy happens when the spinal cord ends in the upper section of the lumbar spine. 

Myelopathy Risk Factors 

Common risk factors for myelopathy include:

  • Age-related cervical or spinal deterioration
  • Trauma
  • Injuries
  • Bone spurs or inflammation in the spine
  • Cervical or spinal conditions like stenosis
  • Heavy lifting with inappropriate posture
  • High-impact sports

Additional risk factors concern your lifestyle habits, such as a lack of physical activity, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and obesity. Certain professional occupations that require repeated motions and put intense strain on your back can also increase your risk of developing myelopathy. 

Common Myelopathy Symptoms

Learning to recognize symptoms that can be early signs of myelopathy can help you seek medical attention before the condition worsens. You may notice that some of your symptoms do not occur every day. However, you should consult a doctor because the infrequency of symptoms does not mean that the condition is going away.

Early myelopathy signs include:

  • Difficulties with fine motor skills
  • Neck stiffness and aches
  • Tingling or numbness 
  • Occipital neuralgia
  • Reduced range of motion
  • Pain in the neck, arms, legs, or lower back

As myelopathy progresses, you may experience additional symptoms such as difficulty walking, or significantly reduced balance or coordination. It may also result in loss of bladder control. Cervical myelopathy can also result in confusion and other cognitive issues.

Myelopathy Diagnosis and Treatment Options

If you experience any symptoms that may indicate myelopathy, you should speak to your primary care doctor or an orthopedic specialist. Your medical provider will perform a detailed physical examination and look at your health history. Their goal is to rule out other medical issues that share symptoms with myelopathy. 

Many doctors use medical imaging for myelopathy including x-rays, MRI scans, and computed tomography scans. They can order myelography to check for abnormalities in the spinal cord and find their precise location if necessary. A doctor can also request an electromyogram to figure out which nerve root is suffering from the compression. 

Treatment options for myelopathy depend on the type and severity of your condition. A common approach is a surgical decompression from the front or back of your spine. This helps create appropriate space for both the spinal cord.

No matter how early or advanced your symptoms may be, seeking medical attention can make a positive difference in receiving adequate diagnosis and treatment for all types of myelopathies. 

If you are concerned that your symptoms may indicate myelopathy, contact the Orthopedic Specialists of Southwest Florida today at 239-215-2008 to schedule an appointment in Fort Myers.