Cervical stenosis is a spinal condition characterized by a narrowing of the spinal canal in the cervical vertebrae. The cervical vertebrae are located at the top of the spinal column, in the upper back and neck. Stenosis can also occur in other regions of the spine, such as the lumbar vertebrae. Cervical stenosis can be a very serious medical problem, as can many other spinal conditions, and there are a number of ways to approach treatment for the condition, depending on how far it has progressed.
The most common cause of cervical stenosis is simply wear and tear on the vertebrae. As people age, the padding between their vertebrae, known as the discs, becomes less flexible, and their vertebrae tend to start compressing the discs. Some people develop bone spurs on the inside of their vertebrae, and these bone spurs protrude into the spinal canal, causing it to narrow. If it narrows enough, damage to the spinal cord will occur. Spinal cord damage is known as myelopathy, and it causes some very distinctive symptoms.
Someone with cervical stenosis will experience numbness, tingling, and occasional shooting pains as nerves are pinched and compressed in the narrowed spinal canal. This is known as cervical radiculopathy. If the condition is not addressed, serious long-term damage can occur, and the patient's pain will often grow much worse. Cervical stenosis often occurs gradually, and sometimes the symptoms take a long time to emerge, making it important to visit a doctor when neck pain, numbness, and tingling emerge, even if the symptoms are intermittent.
To make a diagnosis of cervical stenosis, the doctor will generally interview the patient to get information about his or her history, and order a series of medical imaging studies. These images will reveal narrowing of the spinal canal. The doctor may also conduct some neurological tests to check for nerve damage, and to determine how far the stenosis has progressed.
If cervical stenosis is caught in the early stages, it can sometimes be managed with medications and targeted physical therapy. These treatments can slow or stop the narrowing of the spinal canal while eliminating many of the uncomfortable symptoms of stenosis. If the condition has progressed or non-surgical methods are not effective, a doctor will recommend a surgery. In the surgery, the pressure on the spinal cord will be relieved by removing some of the bone spurs to widen the spinal canal.