Cervical Spinal Stenosis

Cervical spinal stenosis is a condition in which the bones and discs in the neck become arthritic and compress the spinal cord. This pressure on the spinal cord can cause a wide range of symptoms and may even lead to eventual paralysis. Getting an accurate and early diagnosis is critical, and proper treatment can relieve symptoms and prevent irreversible nerve damage.

  • Symptoms

  • Causes

  • Treatment Options

  • Pain or numbness in the shoulders, arms, hands, fingers
  • Possible neck pain that is dull or sharp, sometimes accompanied by stiffness and headaches
  • Often, there is little or no pain in the neck itself
  • Weakness, numbness, or tingling in the arms and hands
  • Problems with fine motor function and coordination
  • Problems with balance, dexterity, and reflexes
  • Other bodily function issues, such as incontinence
  • In severe cases, cervical myelopathy which can cause paralysis or severe loss of function
  • Symptoms tend to worsen slowly but may go through cycles of remaining stable or rapidly worsening
  • Symptoms may flare during certain activities or physical movements

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes cervical stenosis?

“Stenosis” comes from a Greek word meaning “narrowing” or “choking”. Cervical spinal stenosis is when the bones and/or discs in the neck region of the spine become arthritic and compress the spinal cord. This can occur due to trauma or age-related degeneration. Any formation of bone spurs, swollen ligaments, herniated discs, synovial cysts, or other components that can narrow the spinal canal enough to compress the spinal cord may cause cervical stenosis.

How can I be sure I have cervical spinal stenosis and not another health condition?

The symptoms of cervical stenosis are often overlooked or misdiagnosed as other conditions, such as carpal tunnel syndrome or peripheral neuropathy. A combination of a detailed medical history, physical examination, MRI, CT scan, X-rays, reflex testing, and other evaluation methods can yield a proper diagnosis.

Which cervical spinal stenosis treatment is best?

Surgery is often the only effective treatment for cervical stenosis. As each surgery option has advantages and disadvantages, Dr. Pehler will carefully consider your situation before recommending the best cervical stenosis surgery for you.

What will the surgery recovery be like?

The details of your recovery will vary depending on the surgical technique chosen. In most cases, patients can return home on the day of the surgery or within 1 to 2 days. A neck collar may be placed to support the spine as it heals; this may need to be worn for up to several weeks depending on the procedure. Typically, some pain and stiffness are common during recovery but will subside as the tissues heal. More details will be provided for you based on your surgical plan.

What are the risks of surgery for cervical spinal stenosis? 

All surgeries carry some risks. These include but are not limited to reactions to anesthesia, nerve injury, reduced movement, discomfort, failure to alleviate symptoms, temporary voice hoarseness/change, temporary discomfort when swallowing, and others. The risks of nerve injury are incredibly low due to modern techniques and careful monitoring of the patient during the procedure. All potential risks and benefits will be discussed with you in detail when you are evaluated in clinic.

What are the long-term implications of cervical stenosis?

Cervical spinal stenosis tends to slowly worsen over time. Some individuals go through cycles of remaining stable and then rapidly worsening. A proper diagnosis and treatment can provide healing, stop symptoms from progressing, prevent irreversible nerve damage, and improve your quality of life. Conversely, if cervical spinal stenosis is undiagnosed and untreated, the cells of the spinal cord can die, leading to cervical myelopathy. Individuals with cervical myelopathy may eventually experience paralysis or severe loss of function. If you have any of the symptoms listed above, it is important to see your doctor for an evaluation right away to get an accurate diagnosis and begin your treatment plan.