What is Cervical Spine Stenosis?

What is Cervical Spine Stenosis?

Cervical Spine Stenosis is when the spinal canal (space where the spinal cord runs through the spine) narrows. The spine is made up of connected bones and disks that protect the spinal cord. The spinal cord rests in the canal created by these bones. Due to changes caused by arthritis, the opening begins to narrow and become smaller. As it becomes tighter it begins to pinch the cord and its surrounding nerves causing pain, tingling and numbness in the arms, legs, and body.



Arthritis is the primary cause. Arthritis causes cartilage (shock absorbers) and bone growth to break down. Osteoarthritis (a form of arthritis) can cause ligaments to become thick and bone spurs that lead to pressure on the spinal cord and surrounding nerves. Other causes include injuries, tumors, herniated disks, and Piaget’s Disease.

The condition mostly affects adults 50 or older unless a person is born with spinal stenosis, then problems may begin much earlier



Spinal stenosis can affect the neck (cervical) or the lower back (lumbar) areas of the spine. Symptoms vary from none to severe and include pain, numbness, and stiffness. Symptoms may vary because nerve pinching can cause symptoms to travel to other areas of the body like fingertips, arms, and legs. Cervical spinal stenosis can cause symptoms in the lower body as well as the upper body. It is important to discuss symptoms with your doctor.


Common symptoms of cervical spinal stenosis can include:

  • Neck pain and stiffness
  • Weakness in arms and at joints
  • Tingling, burning, numbness in hands and fingers
  • Decreased or loss of reflex responses and motor function

Other symptoms, depending on the severity of spinal stenosis, include:

  • Foot drop
  • Difficulty walking or standing
  • Sciatica
  • Incontinence of bowel or bladder


Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosis begins with a patient history to determine if the symptoms are being caused by stenosis or other conditions. This is generally followed by x-rays, MRI, or CT scan so any bone changes can be seen.

Initial treatment is conservative and non-surgical. This may include medications, steroid injections, anesthetic injections, exercise, and assistive devices. Surgery is done in severe cases where there is extreme difficulty with walking or bowel and bladder issues. Some patients try non-conventional treatments such as acupuncture or chiropractic therapy.


At home self-help

Self-help at home can decrease the severity of discomfort and pain. This plan should be discussed with your doctor prior to starting.

  • Mild to moderate exercises like walking for 30 minutes every other day
  • Applying heat and cold. For muscle knotting and tension use heat and cold reduces inflammation (swelling)
  • Good posture, supportive chairs, and a firm mattress
  • Lift heavy objects using your legs/knees not your back
  • Lose weight. This will reduce the pressure on the pinched nerves.

There is no cure for cervical spine stenosis.  Long-term relief is possible with medications, physical therapy, and moderation with alternative and self-help options. Surgery is a last resort for treatment because surgery has several risk factors.



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