What is Myelopathy?

Myelopathy occurs when the nerves surrounding the spine, also called the spinal cord, are damaged or compacted due to an injury, disease, or deterioration of the discs in our spine. Myelopathy can occur in any part of the spine, including the neck or back, and has different names depending on its location:

  • Cervical myelopathy occurs in the neck
  • Thoracic myelopathy affects the middle part of the back
  • Lumbar myelopathy impacts the lower back

Myelopathy can be minor, worsening gradually over time, or arise suddenly. While it can occur in infants and children, usually as a result of a birth defect in the spine, it is more common as individuals age. As we grow older our bones and the discs surrounding the vertebrae in our spine weaken and deteriorate. This puts pressure on the spinal cord, causing the nerves to send pain signals.


Common symptoms of myelopathy and damage to the spinal cord may include:

  • Pain in the neck or back
  • Losing feeling
  • Feeling weak or tingly
  • Trouble with movement (including walking) and balance
  • Difficulty controlling urge to use restroom

When to See a Doctor

If you experience symptoms of myelopathy, including pain or numbness in the neck or back, you should call your doctor.


Common causes of myelopathy include:

  • Malformed spine, present from birth
  • Narrowing of the spine, also called spinal stenosis
  • Arthritis
  • Cancer or tumors and associated treatments that weaken the vertebrae
  • Trauma or injury to the spine

Diagnosis and Tests

The symptoms associated with myelopathy are common to other conditions in the back and spine, so your doctor may ask for a few tests to rule out other conditions and properly diagnose you:


Myelopathy treatments depend on the cause and individual diagnosis. In some cases, myelopathy can be irreversible, so treatments may be focused on managing pain. Common treatments include:


Myelopathy may not be prevented, however by keeping the muscles and bones in your back and neck strong you may be able to reduce your chances:

  • Eat a diet containing vitamin D and calcium
  • Exercise regularly
  • Follow your provider’s recommendations and take any prescribed medications as instructed

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This medical information is provided by Intermountain Healthcare. It has not been developed to replace medical advice provided by your health care provider.