Spinal stenosis of the neck

Spinal stenosis of the neck occurs when the upper (cervical) section of the spine becomes constricted. The word “stenosis” means narrowing, and the cause of this in the cervical spine is usually due to a specific condition, like arthritis or a herniated disc. This narrowing won’t necessarily produce symptoms, but there is the possibility for stiffness, swelling and other symptoms, depending on what is causing the stenosis and on its exact location. However, if painful symptoms from spinal stenosis have put your life on hold, this is usually because an age-related condition has narrowed your spinal canal enough to compress a nerve.

Specific causes and symptoms of stenosis

Symptoms associated with spinal stenosis will vary depending on the location and exact underlying cause. Here is a brief overview of conditions that cause spinal narrowing and how they may produce symptoms:

  • Spinal osteoarthritis — This is the deterioration of the cartilage that lines the joints where the vertebrae meet. Arthritis can cause narrowing of the spinal canal when bone spurs form as a response to vertebrae grinding against each other. This excess bone material can extend into the spinal canal and pinch the spinal cord or an exiting nerve root.
  • Degenerative disc disease — This is the age-related breakdown of spinal discs, which can lead to the formation of bulging or herniated discs and other forms of spinal instability. Nerve compression and bone spurs also can develop as a disc loses height and elasticity.

Cervical nerve compression symptoms can include local pain, traveling pain, tingling, numbness or muscle weakness in the neck, shoulder, and in the arms out to the hands.

Treating cervical stenosis

Symptoms related to spinal stenosis of the neck can usually be managed conservatively, using medication, exercise and lifestyle changes like weight loss and exercise. By working with their doctor to develop the best care plan for their situation, most people dealing with pain due to stenosis are able to find lasting, effective relief. But if you still have an unacceptable quality of life, even after weeks and months of these treatments, you may start to look at surgical options.

Symptoms related to spinal stenosis of the neck usually can be managed conservatively, using over-the-counter pain medicine, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and other non-surgical methods. If chronic symptoms persist, however, surgery might become an option. If this is your situation, contact Laser Spine Institute to request a no-cost review* of your MRI report and determine if you are a candidate for a minimally invasive, outpatient procedure.

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