Spinal stenosis is the leading cause of spinal complications in the elderly. It can occur throughout the entire spine but, is common in the lower back. When this occurs on the neck, it’s referred to as cervical spinal stenosis. Basically, when the neck’s protective canal starts narrowing due to degenerating bone tissues or cartilage, neurologic deficits can arise from the compression of the spinal cord, this condition is known as myelopathy.
The spine is made up of vertebrae and discs which form a hollow passage. The passage allows for the spinal cord to pass throughout the length; form the brain to the tailbone.
The vertebrae and discs protect the spinal cord by acting like shock absorbers. Any complication to these discs or vertebrae can be negatively consequential. Cervical stenosis occurs mostly in adults above the age of 50. It results in some pain and other coordination problems. There is no cure for cervical stenosis but nonsurgical treatments are used to keep the pain at bay
Causes of Cervical Spinal Stenosis
The most dominant cause is arthritis, which is the breakdown of cartilage—the smooth resiliently elastic material found between your bones—and the growth of new bone tissues. While arthritis is a common disease it is yet to be well understood. However, only certain types of arthritis cause cervical stenosis.
When the cartilage is no longer present to facilitate the smooth movement of the bones and ligaments, pain and swelling occur. This can lead to the change in spinal discs and bone spurs, when this happens, excess pressure is applied on the cord and spinal nerves.
Cervical Stenosis Symptoms
Symptoms depend on whether the narrowing affects the spinal nerves, spinal cord or in some cases both. If the only affected part is the nerve root, then the patient will experience some radiculopathy also referred to a pinched nerve (a generalized term used to refer to nerves that do not work properly).
Radiculopathy is characterized by numbness, weakness, and difficulty in coordination. For cervical spinal stenosis cases linked with the pinched nerve, the patient experiences problems near or at the root of the nerve. However, the pain can also be radiated to other parts of the body served by the same nerve root.
For example, a nerve impingement in the neck can result in numbness or weakness in the forearm. Often, radicular pain that arises from radiculopathy is confused with “referred pain” (pain that occurs in a different location other than that of the stimuli) despite being different in terms of both clinical and mechanisms features.
In totality, radiculopathy is one of the prevalent symptoms of cervical spinal stenosis. A condition secondary to arthritis, spinal disc complications, spondylolisthesis (displacement of one of the vertebrae) or a combination of all these factors. In some cases, the second stage of Lyme meningitis which resembles aseptic meningitis is associated with cervical spinal stenosis characteristic of radiculopathy.
Ideally, physical therapy alongside medication is used in cervical spinal stenosis treatment. In this case, since the condition is incurable, medication and therapy are used in conjunction to improve and stabilize the symptom. In most cases, since radiculopathy is usually the main underlying issue, treatment aims at restoring the root nerve to normal function. Common approaches in such instances are chiropractic, therapeutic and other exercise regimens which are tuned according to the weaknesses and abilities of the patient.
Physical therapy and alongside the modalities mentioned above help in stabilizing coordination and mobility while at the same time calming inflammation and pain. Traction therapy (a form of spinal decompression which relieves pressure from the spine) provides great relief to spinal stenosis symptoms.
When therapies and medication fail to treat the condition, steroid injection around the source of the inflammation are used to ease the pain and protect the spinal cord. Depending on the pathology of the patient, there exist multiple surgical operations that can be used to treat cervical stenosis.
Surgery is only warranted in cases of intractable lumbar stenosis. The surgical procedures aim at relieving pressure from the spinal cord.
Cervical spinal stenosis might be incurable, but it is manageable. To that effect there are some things you can do at home to help you with the pain and inflammation some include, exercising in moderation, applying cold and heat, practicing proper posture e.g firm mattress and standing up straight and lastly losing some weight, since the more weight you have the greater the pressure that is applied to your back.