Have you been suffering from neck pain? Neck pain is very common, and it can occur for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you slept in an uncomfortable position, or you strained a muscle in your neck while exercising. But what if you are noticing other troubling symptoms that leave you scratching your head, unsure if you should see a doctor?
Here, we’ll describe a condition called cervical spinal stenosis. Read on to see if this sounds like what you’ve been experiencing.
Cervical spinal stenosis occurs due to a narrowing of your spinal canal.
Your spinal cord is made up of nerves that travel down your neck and back through an opening called your spinal canal. Spinal nerve roots leave your spinal canal through small spaces between the vertebrae and provide your body with the ability to move and feel. Normally, there is sufficient space for your spinal cord and nerve roots.
But as you get older, certain conditions can develop that make these openings smaller. This is usually due to normal wear and tear over time that cause degenerative changes in your spine. Examples include osteoarthritis, the development of bone spurs, and herniated discs. These conditions encroach on the amount of space available and can put pressure on your spinal cord and nerve roots. When this occurs in your neck, it’s referred to as cervical spinal stenosis.
Cervical stenosis usually occurs in people older than 50. However, some people are born with an abnormally narrow spinal canal, placing them at a greater risk for the development of stenosis.
The symptoms of cervical spinal stenosis can vary.
It’s possible to have mild spinal stenosis but not show any symptoms. But as the condition progresses, symptoms may gradually develop. Depending on where the narrowing occurs in your cervical spine, you may experience the following:
- Neck pain
- Feelings of numbness or tingling in your extremities
- Weakness in your extremities
- Difficulties with balance, coordination, or walking
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
A spine specialist can help diagnose and treat cervical spinal stenosis.
You’ll need to see a doctor to get a true diagnosis of cervical spinal stenosis. In addition to reviewing your symptoms and performing a physical examination, a doctor will likely perform imaging studies to help reveal changes in your spine. Using X-rays, MRIs, or CT scans, your doctor will look for things like bone spurs or herniated discs and determine if or where your spinal cord or nerves are being compressed.
If your cervical spinal stenosis is relatively mild, non-surgical treatments may be effective. Your doctor may prescribe pain medications, such as anti-inflammatory drugs or certain drugs that treat nerve pain. Steroid injections can also be used to ease your symptoms. You may be advised to avoid certain activities that exacerbate your cervical stenosis. In some cases, your doctor may recommend a supervised physical therapy program to improve your strength, flexibility, and mobility.
Severe cases of cervical spinal stenosis often require surgical intervention in order to avoid permanent damage. Surgical techniques can be utilized to create more space in the spinal canal and relieve the pressure placed on your spinal cord or nerve roots. This may involve removing anything that’s protruding into the space, such as a bone spur or portion of a disc. Additionally, your surgeon may remove a piece of or make an opening in the lamina, part of the bony spinal canal wall. Due to advances in spinal surgery, these procedures can frequently be performed as minimally invasive surgeries.
If you think you might be experiencing symptoms of cervical spinal stenosis, schedule an appointment with a spine specialist. With an accurate diagnosis, you can get started on the right treatment plan for you.
About the author
Richard Kim, M.D. Born and raised in Southern California, Dr. Richard Kim earned his undergraduate degree in biochemistry from University of California, Riverside. This followed with a Master of Science in biochemistry and neurophysiology. He then earned his medical degree from St. Louis University School of Medicine in Missouri, graduating Magna Cum Laude. Read more articles by Richard Kim, M.D..