The spinal cord lies within a tunnel called the spinal canal. Cervical spinal stenosis is the medical condition in which the spinal canal within the neck region becomes too narrow. Any stricture within the spinal canal places pressure on the branching nerves of the spine cord. If the stenosis is severe it can cause paralysis, quadriplegia or death. Treatment of cervical stenosis is just one of the many spine conditions that Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine & Orthopedics provides using either conservative or surgical compassionate care.
What Is Cervical Spinal Stenosis?
Spinal stenosis is a condition in which the spinal canal has narrowed first causing discomfort but as it progresses, dysfunction of greater severity occurs. It typically begins to affect adults within the fifth decade of life. Though spinal stenosis can form at any level of the spine, when it occurs in the neck region, it is referred to as “cervical spinal stenosis.” The crescendo of symptoms occurs because as the canal narrows, it first starts to compress the nerve roots that branch off the spinal cord then as it further narrows, it compresses the spinal cord itself. The associated symptoms are:
- Pain, weakness, stiffness, or numbness in the neck, shoulders, arms, hands, or legs.
- Numbness or tingling sensation down both arms.
- Leaning forward relieves the pain or discomfort.
- Balance and coordination difficulties.
- Shuffling or tripping while walking.
- Loss of bladder or bowel control (incontinence).
Cervical spinal stenosis can be caused by trauma, rheumatoid arthritis, or spondylolisthesis but most commonly it is caused by age-related degenerative changes that affect the vertebral bones and discs of the spine. These arthritic changes include excessive growth of the vertebral bones and their facet joints which allows the spine to bend yet remain connected.
The cushioning gelatinous discs between the vertebral bones can tear or slip out of alignment. This “slipped disc” or disc herniation is also known as a “Bulging of the discs.” A bulging disc can occur at any age. Cervical spinal stenosis can also be caused by the disc bulging into the spinal canal thus reducing the space and placing pressure on the nerves and spinal cord.
Lastly in rare cases, patients may be born with small spinal canals. This is referred to as congenital spinal stenosis.
What Happens when Cervical Spinal Stenosis is Left Untreated?
If cervical spinal stenosis is left untreated, the symptoms can progress and become physically debilitating. Not only will the pain increase, but the inability to walk, balance or turn the neck can become extremely limiting due to compression on the spinal cord or pinched nerves.
As the spinal cord becomes more compressed, myelopathic symptoms of corresponding severity become more evident. Symptoms may include gait disturbances, coordination difficulties, clumsiness, difficulty balancing, muscle contractions, neck stiffness, numbness or tingling sensation in both upper extremities, shoulder or arm pain, weakness or spasticity in both arms and hands, bilateral leg weakness or stiffness. It is a surgical emergency once loss of bladder and bowel control occurs as well as paralysis or quadriplegia.
Even if untreated cervical spinal stenosis does not evolve to a surgical emergency, it can cause permanent loss of feeling in your arms, hands, legs, and chest. By seeking treatment early, Centers for Neurosurgery Spine and Orthopedics can eliminate the affects if cervical spinal stenosis and its related symptoms.
Treatment Options for Cervical Spinal Stenosis
In mild cases of cervical spinal stenosis, symptoms may be treated using physical therapy and exercise to reduce inflammation and increase the strength in the neck. Oral medications such as NSAIDS and epidural steroid injections can also be used to reduce inflammation and swelling caused by the compression on the nerves and spinal cord.
In advanced or severe cases of cervical spinal stenosis, the only treatment to resolve the symptoms is a decompressive surgery such as a laminectomy, which will alleviate pressure off the nerves and spinal cord. Depending on the anatomy involved the CNSO neurosurgeon or spine surgeon will decide the least invasive surgical approach using minimally invasive techniques. Undoubtedly, the surgery will trim back the anatomical structures that are causing irritation to the nerves or spinal cord. If there is severe stenosis or if multiple levels are affected by the stenosis, the spine may require stabilization via restructuring and supportive techniques colloquially called a spinal fusion.
Recovery from a decompressive surgery of the cervical spine occurs within a relatively short period of time. CNSO patients can walk and sit without any braces the day after surgery. This short recovery period is worth restoring daily life back to normal. Strenuous exercise such as running or weightlifting, can be resumed after three months.
Contact Us for Neurosurgical Solutions
The experienced cervical stenosis spine surgeons at Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine & Orthopedics are here to help along with pain management doctors, physical therapists, plus physical medicine and rehabilitations specialists. These physician-led multi-specialty teams provide both conservative care for mild to moderate stenosis as well as surgical care for severe cases throughout Bergen, Morris, Passaic, Hudson, and Essex counties. Each location is comprised of elite board-certified neurosurgeons specialized in every type of spine and nervous system condition and surgery. Contact the team at CNSO to make an appointment today.