Prevalence of cervical spine degenerative changes in elderly population and its weak association with aging, neck pain, and osteoporosis

Xiao-Rong Wang, Timothy C. Y. Kwok, James F. Griffith, Blanche Wai Man Yu, Jason C. S. Leung, Yì Xiáng J. Wáng


Background: To investigate the prevalence of MRI degenerative findings of cervical spine in elderly Chinese males and females.
Methods: From a general population sample, cervical spine T2 weighted sagittal MR images were acquired in 272 males (mean age: 82.9±3.83) and 150 females (mean age: 81.5±4.27). Images were interpreted and degenerative changes were classified. Study subjects were divided into younger group (group A, ≤ 81 years) and older group (group B, >81 years). For neck pain, question was structured as ‘during the past 12 months, have you had any neck pain?’. Two hundred and fifty-two males and 134 females also had hip bone mineral density (BMD) measured.
Results: 98.1% subjects exhibited at least one degenerative change at one or more vertebral levels. The C5/6 level had the highest overall frequency for degenerative changes. Most of the degenerative changes were more common in females. The older female group had higher prevalence or higher severity of degenerative findings than the younger group. Eleven point four percent of the males and 20.6% of the females reported neck pain, and male subjects with neck pain tended to have slightly higher prevalence of cervical degenerative changes. There was a weak trend that osteoporosis was associated with a higher prevalence of spinal cord high signal and a higher prevalence of spinal canal stenosis.
Conclusions: The age-dependence of cervical spine degenerative changes was more notable in females. Subjects with neck pain and subjects with osteoporosis were weakly associated with higher prevalence of cervical degenerative changes.