Cervical spine stenosis occurs when the spinal canal or spinal nerve root passage narrows in your neck. The narrowing causes the spine canal or nerves to become compressed and can therefore lead to symptoms such as pain, numbness and weakness in your neck and shoulders. It is important that you see your doctor as soon as possible if you experience any of these symptoms to ensure that no long-lasting damage is done.
Cervical spine stenosis is more common in people over the age of 50, and is usually caused as a result of wear and tear of the cervical discs as you age. Patients may have been suffering from persistent neck pain for years before symptoms become more severe. It can also be caused by an injury or trauma to the neck. As we age our spinal discs lose their elasticity and are unable to withstand the pressure from activities such as lifting and sometimes even walking. These changes can lead to a reduced amount of space between the vertebrae and therefore mean that the nerves are put under additional pressure.
If your doctor believes that you have cervical spine stenosis it is likely that they will review your medical history and medication list, they will then do a physical examination to see where the pain is and what movements trigger the pain. An MRI scan can also be very helpful when trying to diagnose cervical spine stenosis, and it can help to show if there is a loss of height between the discs, if there is a disc bulge, which is often due to natural degeneration. An MRI can be used to look at soft tissues, such as your nerves and spinal cord.
Most patients with cervical spine stenosis do not need surgery, and will be given things to do at home to help ease the pain; for example, physical therapy, specific exercise, medication or spinal injections. If none of the conservative methods of treatment are successful or symptoms worsen, then surgery may be the next option. In severe cases, surgery may be the first option. If you are put forward for surgery, then your surgeon will explain all that you need to know before you decide whether to go ahead with it. The goal of the surgery is to take the pressure of the spinal cord and therefore resolve/reduce the symptoms that you are experiencing. This type of surgery is called a decompression.
There are a number of different ways that this can be done. These include:
- Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF)
- Anterior cervical discectomy and replacement (ACDR)
Over the years there have been a lot of changes in the way that spinal surgery is done. This means that many procedures can be done using minimally invasive techniques. This has benefits including:
- Outpatient surgery (going home the same day as the surgery)
- Smaller incision
- Speedier recovery
This article is intended to inform and give insight but not treat, diagnose or replace the advice of a doctor. Always seek medical advice with any questions regarding a medical condition.