What Is Cervical Stenosis? Causes Symptoms and Treatment Options

Cervical stenosis (also called as stenosis in neck or stenosis of neck) is basically the narrowing condition of spinal canal in the neck.

In general it is an age-related progressive degenerating condition in which the spinal canal narrows down and can squeeze (and even compress) the nerve roots where they leave spinal cord.

In worse conditions it may even compress down or damage the spinal cord itself.

What Are The Causes?

Cervical Stenosis
Cervical Stenosis

Most of the times stenosis in neck occurs when something happens that reduces the amount of space available within the spine.

It has been seen that the soft cushions that act as shock absorbers between the vertebrae tend to dry out with age.

And in this condition even a small crack in the exterior of disk may allow the escape of soft inner material causing herniation of discs which compresses the cord.

This can also cause narrowing down of the spinal canal and hence stenosis neck pain.

Another major cause of cervical spinal stenosis is bony overgrowth which occurs as a result of certain systemic illness like osteoarthritis and paget’s disease.

Abnormal growth of tissues as in case of tumors which forms inside the cord and vertebrae is another important cause to be noticed. Inborn defects (like in people born with small spinal canal) can also be one of the major reasons of this problem.

The tough ligaments that help the bones of spine become stiff and thickened over time. These thickened ligaments can bulge into the spinal canal causing this disease.

Spinal injuries as a result of trauma or road traffic accident that results in fracture or dislocations of vertebra also can be a major cause of this problem.

Common Symptoms

Spinal stenosis neck and shoulder pain which may not be severe all time is the main symptom of neck stenosis. At times there may be intermittent shooting pains experienced in the arms and legs (along with headaches) like an electric shock.

Deterioration in fine motor skills such as difficulty in hand writing or buttoning a shirt is another major stenosis in neck symptom seen.

Weakness or numbness in shoulders, arms and legs leading to clumsiness and dizziness is also sometimes experienced. Disturbances in balance and gait along with burning & tingling sensations in extremities may also be there.

In severe cases, bladder and bowel incontinence, significant loss of function or paraplegia occurs.

Differential Diagnosis and Diagnostic Tests

The differential diagnosis of stenosis in neck includes many conditions, including congenital conditions such as Achondroplasia and Osteogenesis imperfcta. Degenerative conditions like Osteoporosis and Osteoarthritis are very common.

Inflammatory diseases might include Rheumatiod arthritis of the spine and Anklylosing spondylitis. Other metastatic conditions such as Breast cancer, Prostate cancer etc. are included. Paget disease is also considered.

Various diagnostic tests to confirm neck stenosis may include:

  • CT scan and MRI of spine
  • X ray of spine: Anteroposterior view, lateral, oblique, and swimmer’s lateral views
  • Nuclear medicine’s SPECT bone scintigraphy is valuable primarily in differentiating spondylosis, medical disease, infections and tumors

Also Read: Radiating Neck Pain: Causes Symptoms and Treatment Options

Best Treatment Options and Home Remedies

Cervical stenosis treatment without surgery is always the me best method recommended which can be availed in the initial stages.

Most of the times cervical stenosis with myleopathy can be successfully treated with non-operative treatment options such as exercises and anti-inflammatory medications.

Medications such as Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), Muscle relaxants, Antidepressants, Anti-seizures, Opioids are prescribed according to the symptoms seen in the patient.

Some of the most common and effective cervical stenosis natural treatment options include:

Some of the best home remedies for relieving stenosis in neck may also include:

  • Diet and nutrition for losing excess weight
  • using supporters such as canes and walkers while walking to prevent falls
  • using pain relievers such as NSAIDs and
  • Limiting the use of alcohols and sedatives to improve the condition

Exercises For Cervical Stenosis

While it is tempting to rest (without doing exercises), keep in mind that if you don’t move at all (thinking that laying down will heal your pain) you could actually make your pain worse. By taking this into account try doing some of the best exercises recommended by your physical therapist.

Walking, swimming, water walking, aerobic exercises, physical therapy and yoga are some of the best recommended exercises for spinal stenosis neck pain relieve. Choose them according to your body type and extremities it can handle. Try developing a schedule that is doable for you.

Physical therapy includes passive and active treatments. Passive treatment involves; Deep tissue massage, Hot and cold therapies, Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) and Ultrasound. Whereas active therapy involves; Posture maintaining, Stretch and flexibility exercises and producing body’s natural pain relievers such as endorphins.

There are some yogic poses that can also help to free up the neck areas resulting the relief in pain. 8-point shoulder opener, Shoulder opener on blocks, Cow face arms, Standing forward fold with shoulder opener, Shoulder opener at wall, Supported fish pose, Thread the needle, Seated spinal twist are few of them.

Spinal Stenosis Exercises To Avoid

Although doing regular exercises is a recommended way for cervical stenosis pain management, there are certain cervical stenosis exercises to avoid which you should know about. These exercises include:

  • High Impact Exercises
  • Twisting or Bending
  • Long Walks
  • Heavy Lifting

Also Read: What Is Military Neck and How To Fix It Naturally?

When Is Surgery Required?

If you have been diagnosed with stenosis in neck, above cervical stenosis home treatment options may help you most in initial stages. However if the problem is chronic or you have already tried out all the possible conservative treatment options, seeking surgical treatment is recommended.

If above parameters don’t work, surgical approach is needed. When all the non-surgical treatments fail to relive and the patient have been in severe pain for a lengthy period of time, one can go for surgery recommended by the doctor.

As such there are number of surgical techniques that can be used to treat this condition. In most of the cases, surgeons use decompression and stabilization cervical spinal stenosis surgery methods for the treatment. The sole purpose of both is to widen the cervical spinal canal and relieve the compression on the cord.

Decompression Surgery: During decompression surgical technique for cervical stenosis, tissue that is pressing against a nerve is removed to make enough room for foramen or spinal canal. Following types of surgeries can be performed by your surgeon for this:

  • Foraminotomy
  • Laminotomy
  • Laminectomy

Stabilization Surgery: Stabilization surgery for cervical stenosis (also known as spinal fusion) is not required for all spinal stenosis cases. With this method your surgeon helps in limiting the motion between vertebrae, thus providing a long-term stability.

It is more helpful when one or more vertebrae has slipped out from its position, which makes spine unstable and painful. It can be done alone or along with decompression surgeries.

Here, the surgeon creates an environment where the bones of the spine would fuse together over several months or longer by using a bone graft from the same body or a biological substance that will stimulate bone growth. Spinal instrumentations such as wires, cables, screws, rods and plates etc which increase stability and help in the fusion of bones are also used.

Overall, precautions are better than cure. So avoiding the traumatic causes can be a best for you. Early diagnosis and treatment can provide better management for stenosis in neck and should be your first approach. However it is better to get the surgical help when symptoms turns severe.

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