Cervical Spine

Cervical spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the spinal canal in the neck. The spinal canal is the open area in the bones (vertebrae) that make up the spinal column. The spinal cord is a collection of nerves that runs through the spinal canal from the base of the brain to the lower back. These nerves allow us to feel, to move, and to control the bowel and bladder and other body functions.

Causes

Cervical spinal stenosis is usually caused by age-related changes in the shape and size of the spinal canal and so is most common in people older than age 50. The aging process can cause a "bulging of the discs"—the spongy discs between the bones of the spine bulge out farther than normal—or a thickening of tissues that connect bones (ligaments). Aging can also lead to the destruction of tissues that cover bones (cartilage) and excessive growth of the bones in joints. These conditions can narrow the spinal canal (spinal stenosis). In rare cases, the spinal canal is narrowed from birth because of the way the bones are formed.

Treatments

In mild cases of spinal stenosis, symptoms can usually be controlled with medicine to relieve pain, exercise to maintain strength and flexibility, and physical therapy. If your symptoms are severe, you have progressive weakness of your muscles or the pictures of your spine show that your spinal cord or nerves are being tightly squeezed; your doctor is likely to recommend decompressive surgery to relieve the pressure. This surgery may be done from the front or the back of the neck. It involves removing some of the disc, bone, and/or tissue that may be pressing on the nerve roots. Vertebrae are often joined together surgically (fused) to provide stability to the spine.

Cervical spinal stenosis can potentially cause serious problems with the nervous system, including problems with bowel or bladder control (incontinence) and permanent loss of strength and feeling in the arms, hands, and legs. Your doctor will not wait for you to have severe symptoms of pain, weakness, and numbness before considering treatment to relieve pressure on your spinal cord and nerves.

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