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Cervical spinal stenosis can cause problems anywhere, from the arms and upper back to pain, tingling or numbness in the legs. Stenosis in medical terminology simply means "narrowing" so cervical (neck) stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal in the neck area. It's caused by long term wear and tear on the joints of the spine in the neck.
Please read this page on arthritis of the neck if you are interested in learning how your spine degenerated to the point of cervical stenosis.
The brain controls your entire body. It sends message down the spinal cord, and out nerves to every cell. Spinal tracts carrying these nerves (think of them as nerve highways) travel all the way down the spinal cord and branch off (like exits of the highway) at certain parts of the spine. For example, the nerves that control your fingers branch off in the neck, and the nerves that control your toes branch off in your low back.
All the nerve highways have to travel down through the neck to get to their exit. When the spinal canal in the neck narrows, it can push on any number of highways.
It can push on the highway of nerves that controls the movement in your legs, and you might have muscle spasms or muscle weakness. It can push on the highway that helps your body keep it balance, and you may have difficulty walking or standing without help. It may push on the nerve highway that controls the feeling in either your arms or legs and you could have numbness or tingling in the fingers or toes. Each of these different sets of symptoms has a different medical name, but they are all caused by the same process.
Treatment options can range from non-invasive to surgery, depending on the severity of your case and your doctor's recommendation.
If the degeneration in your neck is bad, but the bones have not yet started to fuse (an X-ray would show this), conservative care like chiropractic can help slow down the progression. Stretching, exercises to strengthen supporting muscles, physiotherapy for pain, and home care advice is often given as well.
For specific neck stretching exercises that can address tight muscles that make you feel worse, follow that link.
If your vertebrae have started fusing or if the narrowing is very severe, you may need more invasive care. Your doctor may recommend removing part of the vertebrae to open up the canal; this is called a laminectomy. Another common procedure is to clean up any disc protrustions or herniations that may be pushing on the spinal cord. If your surgeon feels your spine is unstable, they may recommend fusing 2 or more vertebrae together.
Surgery always has risks. For a list of arthritis doctors who specialize in non-surgical care for cervical spinal stenosis, please follow that link for recommendations.
The Posture Pump Spinal Disc Re-Hydrator
At the office, when a practice member has lost the curve in their neck and is starting to get degenerative disc disease, we often have them use the Posture Pump. This device helps restore the curve to the neck and re-hydrates the discs. It's especially effective in preventing cervical spinal stenosis. Combined with the neck stretching exercises above, it can help decrease pain and muscle spasms. Please talk with your doctor if you have severe stenoisis before using this product