What is Cervical Stenosis?

Stenosis is the narrowing of a structure, in this particular case; it is the narrowing of your spinal canal or the bony tube, in which the nerve roots and spinal cord travel. The cervical spine is found in the upper portion of your spine, which consists of seven vertebral, making up what we have commonly known as the neck. A gel-like disc separates each person's vertebral. The disc provides the added cushion between the bones; as a result, it allows natural motion.

The spinal cord is a composition of nerves that run through the spinal canal; this is from the base of the brain to your lower back. The nerves present allow us to feel, control and move our bowels, bladder and various other body functions, as individual nerve roots branch off the spinal cord at each level. It makes up the nerves to your hands and arms. In Cervical Stenosis, the spinal canal gets narrow and can compress or squeeze the nerve roots to the point where they leave the spinal cord. On the other hand, it might damage or compress the spinal cord itself.

What causes Cervical Stenosis?

The bony Spinal canal has more than enough room for the spinal cord, having around 17 to 18 millimeters; it is slightly less than the size of a penny. As a result, Cervical Stenosis will occur when the canal narrows to around 13 millimeters or less. In the event the size drops to 10 millimeters there could be severe symptoms of myelopathy occurring. Myelopathy is a term commonly used for any condition that affects your spinal cord. Some of the causes of Cervical Stenosis have been identified below.

1. Degeneration

Cervical Stenosis mostly occurs due to the degeneration changes that take place in your spine, which is a result of wear and tear usage. It tends to progress as individuals age. At times, some portion of the gel-like disc may rapture, which leads to putting some amount of pressure on your nerves. As the degeneration is progressing, the disc might collapse and even decrease in height, which leaves less room in which the nerves can work.

Additionally, the ligaments that are present in your spine might thicken and bone spurs, which is referred to as osteophytes, it may start to form around the vertebral bodies.

2. Congenital Stenosis

There are also other less common causes of Cervical Stenosis. In a rare occasion, a person might be born with abnormalities of the spine, which can create the congenital stenosis. It is when you are born with a spinal canal narrower than normal. In the early life of this particular individual, they might not feel anything, but it places them at risk of Cervical Stenosis. A minor neck injury can set them up in having immense pressure on their spinal cord.

3. Constriction of blood supply to the Spinal Cord

The changes that take place with degeneration and the disc herniation could lead to chocking off the blood supply that is going to the spinal cord. The sections of the spinal cord that do not receive adequate blood supply will be exposed to less oxygen. As a result, not causing it to function normally, this will lead to symptoms of myelopathy being witnessed.

What are the Symptoms?

Cervical Stenosis tends to develop very slowly over a period. The reason being, degeneration takes place later on in an individual's life, and it is the primary cause of the spinal stenosis. The symptoms would rarely develop all at once when degeneration is causing the problem. However in the event, a server injury is experienced or a herniated disc, it could cause the symptoms to appear much quicker so of the symptoms have been discussed further.

1. How you walk

The first symptom witnessed by most patients is in the way they walk, as they do not realize the problem could be coming from their neck. However, the pressure taking place on the spinal cord around the neck can affect the muscles and nerves in your legs. As a result, it leads to a change in the way you walk.

2. Problems in your hands

Another symptom is problems in your hands. The main complaint about most patients is that their hands start to feel numb. Others would start feeling clumsy when performing some motor activities such as typing or writing. Additionally, the ability to grip and let go of an item starts becoming difficult. It is because the muscles that are along the inside edge of your fingers and palms begin to weaken.

3. Your shoulders become weak

Weakness in the shoulders also starts developing in most patients. It happens when the spinal cord is compressed by the upper part of your neck. The areas most affected are the deltoid muscle and the shoulder blade muscle, which covers the outside and the top of your shoulder. These muscles begin to weaken and show some signs of wasting, which is referred to as atrophy caused by not getting proper nerve input.

4. Problems with your bowel and bladder

The pressure experienced against your spinal cord can create some problems with your bladder and bowel. The mild pressure will make you feel like you need to urinate often, but also, it makes it tough for you get the urine to flow, this is called urinary hesitancy. The moderate disturbance tends to cause people to have a weak flow of urine; as a result, this makes them dribble urine. Additionally, it makes the individual to strain during bowel movement. Consequently, in severe cases, the person is not able to control their bowel and bladder, the condition is referred to as incontinence.

What can be done?

In most cases, Cervical Stenosis can be treated by doing some strengthening and stretching exercises, changing your lifestyle and getting over the counter medicine. In some instances, your doctor may add some physical therapy together with the treatment regime. In the event there is an acute flare up, it can be treated with a brief course of pain medications or oral steroids. If your symptoms persist, your doctor might recommend surgery.