Spinal stenosis — the degenerative spine condition that sidelined Jarvis Jones

Like many athletes before him, Jarvis Jones — a member of University of Southern California’s football team during the 2009 season — sustained a nerve injury in the neck called a “stinger” that concerned fans, commentators and fellow players. While receiving treatment for the injury, Jones was informed that he had a spine condition called cervical spinal stenosis. News of this left many people wondering what spinal stenosis is and whether it only affects athletes.

Spinal stenosis explained

Spinal stenosis is characterized by a narrowing of the spinal canal or other nerve pathways in the spinal column. The condition is sometimes present at birth, but most commonly occurs because of degenerative changes caused by the natural aging process or, in Jones’ case, excessive wear and tear.

Over time, everyone’s spine will break down to some degree: facet joints that connect vertebrae become arthritic, discs that provide cushioning dehydrate and ligaments that aid in flexion and extension calcify. These degenerative changes can cause portions of the spine to move out of alignment, inflame or become otherwise damaged and subsequently protrude into the spinal canal. Performing activities that require excessive bending, twisting or lifting, or subject the neck or back to repeated impact, can accelerate or worsen the degenerative changes that affect the spine, sometimes causing younger people like Jones to experience degenerative spine conditions such as spinal stenosis.

Symptoms of spinal stenosis

Jones was diagnosed with stenosis of the cervical (upper) region of the spine, specifically at the fourth and fifth vertebrae, labeled C4 and C5. The symptoms of spinal stenosis — numbness, tingling, muscle weakness and pain — travel along the length of the affected spinal nerve or nerve root, causing discomfort in seemingly unrelated areas of the body.

In Jones’ case, the nerves that originate at C4 and C5 send sensory and motor signals to the shoulder, which explains why Jones experienced shoulder numbness during the 2009 season. As you can imagine, players who are experiencing the symptoms of spinal stenosis find it incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to play the game. Jones found relief from the symptoms of spinal stenosis, allowing him to return to the field and eventually play in the National Football League.

Learning more about spinal stenosis

The spine care experts at Laser Spine Institute are committed to helping people find information about spine conditions and the treatment options available to them. We are founded on the principle of patient-centered care, which means that we are here to help each patient find the information needed to make a confident decision regarding spine treatment options.

If you believe you have spinal stenosis or any other degenerative spine condition that is preventing you from doing the daily activities you enjoy, we encourage you to contact Laser Spine Institute today. We can perform a free MRI review* to help you find out if you are a potential candidate for one of our procedures.

By using muscle-sparing techniques, our surgeons are able to perform outpatient procedures that are a safer and effective alternative to traditional open spine surgery.^

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