Cervical Spondylotic Myelopathy presenting as mechanical neck pain

Cervical Spondylotic Myelopathy (CSM) is the type of myelopathy most often seen in adults over 55 years of age. In the early stages symptoms may include local neck pain and stiffness that might mimic the presentation of non-specific mechanical neck pain (NSMNP). The patient was a 79 year old male, who reported eight weeks of neck pain. He had been referred for physiotherapy by his family physician with a diagnosis of NSMNP. Initial presentation was consistent with the referral, but further assessment by the physiotherapist revealed findings suggestive of CSM. He was referred for an urgent cervical MRI scan, which showed myelomalacic changes at C3/4 due to spondylotic changes. The patient was not suitable for manual therapy intervention and was referred to a spinal orthopaedic surgeon who performed a posterior decompression and stabilisation at C3-C5, 2 months after the initial presentation. This case report highlights the importance of considering CSM in adults over 55 years of age presenting with NSMNP, particularly as the frequency of both increases with age. It demonstrates the need for health professionals to carry out detailed examination where CSM may be a potential differential diagnosis. Outcomes are less favourable for patients over the age of 70, therefore an urgent surgical opinion was required for this patient. Deterioration of symptoms whilst he awaited surgery shows how missed diagnosis may lead to possible long term spinal cord damage, with potential medico-legal concerns for the therapist.