Cervical spondylosis is a common condition that can cause neck and shoulder pain, often in people over 40. A GP should check more serious cases affecting the spine.
Check if it's cervical spondylosis
Symptoms of cervical spondylosis include:
- neck and shoulder pain or stiffness that can come and go
- headaches that often start at the back of the neck
Cervical spondylosis is a normal part of ageing and many people do not have any symptoms.
How to ease cervical spondylosis symptoms
There are things you can do to help ease neck pain caused by cervical spondylosis.
A pharmacist can help with cervical spondylosis
A pharmacist may be able to recommend stronger painkillers if you need them.
Urgent advice: Ask for an urgent GP appointment or get help from NHS 111 if you have:
- pain that's getting much worse
- heaviness or weakness in your arms or legs
- pins and needles in an arm, as well as pain in your neck or arm
- neck pain that is worse when you move
- pain between your shoulder blades
- a stiff neck
- poor balance
You can call 111 or get help from 111 online
Immediate action required: Call 999 if you have any of these:
- new problems walking
- loss of bladder or bowel control
- sudden lack of co-ordination – for example with tasks like buttoning a shirt
- somebody’s face droops on 1 side, (the mouth or eye may have drooped)
- a person cannot lift up both arms and keep them there
- a person has difficulty speaking (speech may be slurred or garbled)
These can be signs of a medical emergency.
What happens at your GP appointment
The GP will examine your neck and shoulder if they think you may have cervical spondylosis.
They may also test your reflexes and watch you walk.
Depending on your symptoms you may be sent for other tests such as X-rays or scans.
Treatment for cervical spondylosis
Treatment for cervical spondylosis depends on how bad your symptoms are.
The GP may give you more exercises to do and recommend you carry out your usual activities as much as possible.
The GP may also prescribe a muscle relaxant or other medicine if the pain has been coming and going for a long time (chronic pain).
It usually takes a few weeks for treatment to work, although the pain and stiffness can come back.
Surgery is only considered if:
- a nerve is being pinched by a slipped disc or bone (cervical radiculopathy)
- there's a problem with your spinal cord (cervical myelopathy)
Surgery is not always a cure but it may stop your symptoms getting worse.
Physiotherapy for cervical spondylosis
If your symptoms do not improve in a few weeks the GP may recommend physiotherapy.
Waiting times for physiotherapy on the NHS can be long.
You can also get physiotherapy privately.
Causes of cervical spondylosis
Many people over 40 get cervical spondylosis as part of getting older.
It happens when ageing causes wear and tear to bones in the spine and the soft cushions of tissue (discs) in the neck.
You may also be more likely to get cervical spondylosis at any age if:
- you have previously had a neck injury
- you have a family history of the condition
Page last reviewed: 2 August 2023
Next review due: 2 August 2026