The spinal canal is a hollow passage in the vertebrae through which the spinal cord runs. Each nerve root of the spinal cord branches out and travels through the opening (foramen) on either side of the vertebrae. Cervical spinal stenosis is a condition that occurs as a result of the narrowing of the spinal canal in the neck from the degeneration of the bones, discs or joints in the cervical spine. This causes increased pressure on the nerve roots where they exit the spinal canal and damage the spinal cord.
Cervical spinal stenosis forms as a result of age-related changes to the spinal canal. The stress and strain of normal wear and tear, results in degeneration of the spine’s discs, bones and joints. As the discs that cushion the vertebrae begin to deteriorate, the vertebrae slip out of alignment and rub against one another. This can result in the formation of bone spurs that may protrude into the spinal canal, reducing the available space to the spinal cord. Inflammatory and degenerative arthritis, tumors, a person’s inherited bone structure (in rare cases), and trauma are also causes for narrowing of the space within the spinal canal.
Symptoms may slowly develop over time, and typical symptoms of this condition include coordination problems, incontinence, pain, numbness, tingling and/or weakness in the neck, shoulders, arms and hands, as well as legs.
Treatment options for spinal stenosis include the use of pain of relieving medications, rest, and physical therapy. Different positions, including lying on one’s back with the knees up to the chest or bending forward, are helpful to relieve pain and pressure. Serious cases, which present with increased pain, muscle weakness or nerve compression, may require decompressive surgery.