What is cervical spinal stenosis?
Cervical spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal in its cervical part. This narrowing of the spinal canal, regardless of its cause, puts pressure in the spinal cords and nerves that originate from the spinal cord. Spinal stenosis in general is more common in the cervical and lumbar part of the spine.
What causes cervical spinal stenosis?
In most of the cases, spinal stenosis occurs when something reduces the normal space within the spine. However, some people are born with a narrow spine canal. The most common causes of cervical spinal stenosis include:
- Herniated disc – it is well known that the vertebral column consists of vertebrae that are separated from one another by cartilage discs. These cartilage discs work like cushions and shock absorbers for the vertebral column. In cases of any injuries of the back or degenerative diseases that affect the discs, making them weak or even tear, the center of the discs pops out, compressing the spinal nerves. This causes inflammation and pain often accompanied with numbness of the affected leg, due to the fact that the sciatic nerve becomes pinched, this condition known as sciatica, it causes sciatic nerve pain.
- Spinal injuries – like car accidents, sports injuries or any other major trauma can lead to injuries of the spine, especially its cervical part.
- Thickened ligaments – ligaments of the cervical part of the human body can become stiff and thickened over the time, narrowing also the spinal canal.
- Overgrowth of the bone – bone spurs can grow due to osteoarthritis of the cervical spine. Paget’s disease is another medical condition, affecting adults, which is characterized by overgrowth of the bones, including also the spine.
- Tumors – abnormal tissue can grow inside the spinal cord, narrowing this way the spinal canal.
Signs and symptoms of cervical spinal stenosis
While spinal stenosis can cause no signs and symptoms at all, others may experience severe signs and symptoms, affecting their daily life. The signs and symptoms of cervical spinal stenosis usually start gradually and intend to get worse over the time. As mentioned, the signs and symptoms vary from one person to another, depending from its cause and the location of the stenosis. Characteristic signs and symptoms of cervical spinal stenosis include:
- Neck pain
- Shoulder pain
- Muscle weakness
- Problems with walking
- Problems with maintain proper balance
- Bladder problems
- Bowel problems, etc.
How is cervical spinal stenosis diagnosed?
Sometimes it is difficult to diagnose cervical spinal stenosis, as its signs and symptoms resemble those of many medical conditions. However, imaging tests are necessary for the right diagnosis. These tests include:
- X-rays of the cervical part of the spine
- CT – scan, and
How is cervical spinal stenosis treated?
Treatment usually depends from the cause of spinal stenosis, the severity of the signs and symptoms and its location. Some recommended medications to control the pain that accompanies cervical spinal stenosis include: NSAIDs, muscle relaxants, antidepressants, opioids, etc.
Physical exercise and therapy are also very important as they tend to strengthen the muscles of the neck, shoulders and back, maintain the flexibility and stability of the spine as well as improving the balance.
Steroid injections including:
Are another treatment option, which tend to reduce the inflammation on the affected area, leading to relive of the nerve pressure.
Surgery is the last treatment option, in cases when all the other treatment options have failed to control the signs and symptoms of cervical spinal stenosis. The goal of surgical treatment is to relieve the pressure on the spinal cord and nerves by enlarging the space within the spinal canal.
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