Cervical stenosis is a condition in which the spinal canal is too small for the spinal cord and nerve roots. This can cause damage to the spinal cord, a condition called myelopathy, or pinch nerves as they exit the spinal canal (radiculopathy).Occasionally, damage to the spinal cord and nerve roots may occur, resulting in a condition called myeloradiculopathy.
Cervical stenosis is most often caused by a number of factors which combine to cause a critical level of spinal cord compression, at which time symptoms may develop. Factors contributing to the development of cervical stenosis include: shorter than average pedicles (the bones which form the sides of the spinal canal), degenerative arthritis causing excessive bone growth, increased in size of the ligamentum flavum (a ligament which runs down the underside of the roof of the spinal canal), and conditions such rheumatoid arthritis and ossification (abnormally turning into bone) of the ligament that forms the floor of the spinal canal.
Symptoms of cervical stenosis are related to abnormal compression of the spinal cord and nerve roots. Neck pain, pain in one or both arms, and an electrical sensation that shoots down the back when the head moves are common painful sensations in patients with spinal stenosis. Numbness of the arms can occur, in addition to a feeling that the arms or hands are asleep. As the condition progresses, weakness of the arms and hands can occur with loss of coordination. Also, in advanced stages of cervical stenosis, problems with bowel and bladder function can result, in addition to weakness and numbness in the legs and feet, which can cause difficulty walking.
However, it is important to note that cervical stenosis does not always get worse and cause progressive symptoms. Many people have mild stenosis and never become symptomatic, or have mild symptoms which are not bothersome enough to seek treatment. Even if symptoms occur which are severe enough to seek treatment, they can usually be controlled with a combination of medication and physical therapy. We work closely with you and many different health care practicioners to choose the treatment plan best suited to your needs.
If surgery is ultimately necessary, there are two basic surgeries that are performed, with several variations to each one. Depending on the cause and location of the stenosis, surgery may be performed from the front, known as anterior cervical fusion. Surgery may also be performed from the back of the neck, commonly called a posterior laminectomy. There may be an option for Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery. To learn more about what to expect if you are in the hospital for one of these surgeries, click here.
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