What is Cervical Stenosis?

Cervical stenosis occurs when the spinal canal in the neck narrows and compresses the spinal cord or nerve roots.

Causes

Cervical stenosis is most frequently caused by aging and degeneration. The discs in the spine that separate and cushion vertebrae may dry out. As a result, the space between the vertebrae shrinks, and the discs lose their ability to act as shock absorbers. At the same time, the bones and ligaments that make up the spine become less pliable and thicken. These changes result in a narrowing of the spinal canal. In addition, the degenerative changes associated with cervical stenosis can affect the vertebrae by contributing to the growth of bone spurs that compress the nerve roots.

Symptoms

The symptoms of cervical stenosis can range from mild to severe symptoms. Symptoms may include:

  • Neck pain and stiffness
  • Pain shooting down arm(s)
  • Tingling, numbness or weakness in arms or hands
  • Decreased muscle tone in arms/hands
  • Headaches in back of head
  • Decreased grip strength
  • Difficulty with balance
  • Loss of coordination in arms or legs

Diagnosis

Diagnosis is made based on history, symptoms, physical examination, and results of diagnostic studies. These tests may include:

  • X-rays
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
  • Computed Tomography Scan (CT or CAT scan)
  • Electromyography (EMG)
  • Nerve Conduction Studies (NCS)

Treatments

Mild stenosis can be treated conservatively. Conservative treatments include observation of symptoms, medications, physical therapy, chiropractic care, and cervical injections.

If stenosis is severe, progressive, or does not respond to conservative treatments, then surgical intervention should be discussed. Surgeries vary depending on many factors including the severity of the stenosis, the location of the stenosis, and the patient’s symptoms.