Neck Pain: Cervical Stenosis

Cervical stenosis at a glance

  • Neck pain can sometimes be caused by degenerative changes in the intervertebral discs of the cervical spine and the joints between the vertebrae. One of the most serious problems caused by degeneration of the spinal segment in the cervical spine is a condition called spinal stenosis.
  • In cervical spinal stenosis, the spinal canal in the neck narrows and can squeeze and compress the nerve roots where they leave the spinal cord, or it may irritate or injure the spinal cord itself.
  • This pressure can change how the spinal cord functions, and can result in pain, stiffness, numbness, or tingling in the neck, arms, hands, and legs.

Causes of cervical stenosis

A person’s body change with age. Cervical spinal stenosis may be caused by age-related changes in the shape of the spinal canal, and it is most common in those older than age 50.

Over time, aging can also result in the destruction of cartilage and excessive growth of the bones in joints. For some, aging can cause the spongy discs between the bones of the spine to bulge out farther than normal, or it may thicken the tissues that connect the ligaments.

These conditions can narrow the spinal canal and result in spinal stenosis.

Symptoms of cervical stenosis

Symptoms usually develop over time. Many people will have narrowing of the spinal cord, yet have not symptoms. Symptoms do not appear until the nerves or spinal cord becomes squeezed.

Symptoms may include:

  • Pain, numbness, tingling or stiffness in the neck, shoulders, arms, hands or legs.
  • Problems with coordination or balance, including tripping while walking.
  • Weakness or spasticity in the legs.
  • Incontinence.

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, see your health provider. Your doctor will take a complete medical history and provide a physical exam. To ensure an accurate diagnosis, your physician may order several diagnostic tests.

Treatment of cervical stenosis

For mild and moderate cases, symptoms of spinal stenosis may be managed with pain relieving medicine, physical therapy and exercise to build strength and flexibility.

For severe cases, your physician may recommend decompressive surgery to relieve the pressure. This surgery involves removing some of the disc, bone, and/or tissue that may be pressing on the nerve roots. It may be done from the front or the back of the neck.

Vertebrae may also be fused surgically to provide stability to the spine.

Since cervical spinal stenosis can cause serious problems with the nervous system, your doctor will not wait until you have severe symptoms before considering treatment to relieve pressure on your nerves and spinal cord.

If you are experiencing neck pain and the symptoms of cervical spinal stenosis, contact us to schedule an appointment with orthopedic spine specialists.