What is Cervical Stenosis?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2019
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Cervical stenosis is a spinal condition characterized by a narrowing of the spinal canal in the cervical vertebrae. The cervical vertebrae are located at the top of the spinal column, in the upper back and neck. Stenosis can also occur in other regions of the spine, such as the lumbar vertebrae. Cervical stenosis can be a very serious medical problem, as can many other spinal conditions, and there are a number of ways to approach treatment for the condition, depending on how far it has progressed.

The most common cause of cervical stenosis is simply wear and tear on the vertebrae. As people age, the padding between their vertebrae, known as the discs, becomes less flexible, and their vertebrae tend to start compressing the discs. Some people develop bone spurs on the inside of their vertebrae, and these bone spurs protrude into the spinal canal, causing it to narrow. If it narrows enough, damage to the spinal cord will occur. Spinal cord damage is known as myelopathy, and it causes some very distinctive symptoms.


Someone with cervical stenosis will experience numbness, tingling, and occasional shooting pains as nerves are pinched and compressed in the narrowed spinal canal. This is known as cervical radiculopathy. If the condition is not addressed, serious long-term damage can occur, and the patient's pain will often grow much worse. Cervical stenosis often occurs gradually, and sometimes the symptoms take a long time to emerge, making it important to visit a doctor when neck pain, numbness, and tingling emerge, even if the symptoms are intermittent.

To make a diagnosis of cervical stenosis, the doctor will generally interview the patient to get information about his or her history, and order a series of medical imaging studies. These images will reveal narrowing of the spinal canal. The doctor may also conduct some neurological tests to check for nerve damage, and to determine how far the stenosis has progressed.

If cervical stenosis is caught in the early stages, it can sometimes be managed with medications and targeted physical therapy. These treatments can slow or stop the narrowing of the spinal canal while eliminating many of the uncomfortable symptoms of stenosis. If the condition has progressed or non-surgical methods are not effective, a doctor will recommend a surgery. In the surgery, the pressure on the spinal cord will be relieved by removing some of the bone spurs to widen the spinal canal.


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Post 3

@John57 - I have had surgery for cervical stenosis and have had good results. I can understand your hesitation to go under the knife, but I wish I had not put it off as long as I did.

When I had surgery, they also removed two herniated discs I had that were causing a lot of pain and discomfort.

The recovery time was not as long as I thought it would be either. I was able to get out of bed the same day, and only had to stay in the hospital for three days.

Once I was home, I took it easy and was gradually able to return to my normal activities. Having surgery as treatment for my cervical stenosis was something that worked well for me. Relief from the nagging pain is wonderful.

This is something you will want to work closely with your doctor on to determine if this is the best route for you to go.

Post 2

I have not had any kind of neck injury or trauma, but have developed cervical stenosis symptoms from growing older.

My doctor says this is not uncommon in many people he sees. Managing the pain is important, but I have not been able to do this very successfully so far.

I have tried pain medications and physical therapy and still have problems. Most of my symptoms are ongoing neck pain and sharp, stabbing pain in my neck and upper back.

Many times it feels like someone is taking a sharp pin and sticking it in the back of my neck. I have even worn a neck brace when I sleep, but I couldn't handle that for very long.

My next step is to have cervical stenosis surgery to enlarge my spinal canal and give me some relief. I am really nervous about having surgery though, and have been putting it off for a long time.

Post 1

I was in a car accident several years ago, and was hit from behind. This caused some neck pain and stiffness at the time of the accident, but has taken a toll over the years.

My cervical neck stenosis was caused from this trauma to my neck and shoulders many years ago. As I have aged, this has caused me more pain and aggravation.

So far I have been able to manage this with pain medications and some cervical stenosis exercises. I seem to get the best relief when I keep up with the exercises. When I start to slack off, I begin to have more pain.

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