Cervical Stenosis: Causes, Symptoms, Complications, Diagnosis and Treatment

It occurs when the protective spinal canal in the neck narrows due to degenerative changes or trauma.

Cervical stenosis is also known as cervical spinal stenosis.

If the space within the spinal canal becomes too narrow, neurological deficits can result from compression of the spinal cord; a condition called myelopathy. Everyone’s spine undergoes some degeneration with age.

The intervertebral discs, which provide cushioning between the vertebral bones, naturally lose hydration over time and become flattened, and the discs can bulge in the spinal canal.

The joints at the back of the spine, called facet joints, also degenerate over time and enlarge with changes in arthritis. The result of both types of degeneration is less space in the spinal canal or spinal stenosis.

Spinal stenosis is a condition, mainly in adults 50 years of age or older, in which the spinal canal begins to narrow. This can cause pain and other problems. Your spine is made up of a series of connected bones (vertebrae) and discs, which absorb shock.

A vital part of the central nervous system connects the brain to the body. The cord rests in the channel formed by your vertebrae. For most people, stenosis is the result of changes due to arthritis.


The spinal canal can narrow. The open spaces between the vertebrae may start to get smaller. The tightness can pinch the spinal cord or the nerves around it, causing pain, tingling, or numbness in the legs, arms, or torso.

There is no cure, but there are a variety of non-surgical treatments and exercises to keep pain at bay. Most people with spinal stenosis live everyday lives.

Causes of cervical stenosis

The main reason for spinal stenosis is arthritis, a condition caused by the breakdown of cartilage, the cushioning material between bones, and the growth of bone tissue.

Osteoarthritis can lead to disc changes, thickening of the ligaments in the spine, and bone spurs. This can put pressure on your spinal cord and spinal nerves.

Other causes include:

  • Herniated discs: If the cushions are cracked, the material can leak out and pressure the spinal cord or nerves.
  • Injuries: An accident can fracture or inflame part of your spine.
  • Tumors: If cancerous growths touch the spinal cord, you may have stenosis.
  • Paget’s disease: With this condition, your bones grow abnormally large and brittle. The result is a narrowing of the spinal canal and nerve problems.

Some people are born with spinal stenosis or diseases that lead to it. For them, the condition usually begins to cause problems between the ages of 30 and 50.


Many people have evidence of spinal stenosis on a CT scan, but they may not have symptoms. When these symptoms occur, they often start gradually and get worse over time. Symptoms are different depending on the location of the stenosis and the nerves that are affected.

In the neck (cervical spine)

  • Numbness or tingling in a hand, arm, foot, or leg.
  • Weakness in a hand, arm, foot, or leg.
  • Problems walking and balance.
  • Neck Pain.
  • Bowel or bladder dysfunction (urinary urgency and incontinence) in severe cases.

Lower back (lumbar spine)

  • Numbness or tingling in a foot or leg.
  • Weakness in a foot or leg
  • Pain or cramping in one or both legs when standing for long periods or walking is usually relieved when bending over or sitting down.
  • Back pain.

Spinal stenosis usually affects the neck or lower back. When you have symptoms, they tend to be the same; stiffness, numbness, and back pain.

More specific symptoms

  • Sciatica: These shooting pains in the leg start as a pain in the lower back or buttocks.
  • Foot Drop: Painful leg weakness can cause you to “hit” your foot on the ground.
  • A difficult time standing or walking: When you are in an upright position, it tends to compress the vertebrae, causing pain.
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control: In extreme cases, it weakens the nerves in the bladder or bowel.

If you have symptoms, you may want to talk to your doctor. And if you have a loss of bladder or bowel control, call your doctor right away.

Complications of cervical stenosis

In rare cases, untreated severe spinal stenosis can progress and cause permanent:

  • Numbness.
  • Soft spot.
  • Balance problems.
  • Incontinence.
  • Paralysis.


When you visit your doctor, they will likely ask you questions about your medical history. After that, he may order at least one of the following tests to determine if you have the condition.

  • X-rays: These can show how the shape of your vertebrae has changed.
  • MRI: Using radio waves, an MRI creates a three-dimensional image of your spine. It can show tumors, growths, and even disc and ligament damage.
  • CT scan: A CT scan uses X-rays to create a 3-D image.

With the help of a dye injected into your body, it can show soft tissue damage and problems with your bones.

Treatment for cervical stenosis

Your doctor may start with non-surgical treatments. These may include:

  • Medications: Common pain remedies such as aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and naproxen can offer short-term relief. All are available in low doses without a prescription.
  • Corticosteroid injections: Your doctor will inject a steroid such as prednisone into your back or neck. Steroids decrease inflammation. However, due to the side effects, they are used in moderation.
  • Anesthetics: Used with precision, an injection of a “nerve block” can stop pain for a time.
  • Exercise – You can improve your flexibility, strength, and balance with regular activity. Your doctor can recommend a physical therapist to help you.
  • Assistive devices: You can get braces, a corset, or a walker to help you get around.


Some people have severe cases. They struggle to walk or have bladder and bowel problems. Doctors may recommend surgery for these people.

Procedures such as laminectomy and laminoplasty create space between the bones to decrease inflammation. Surgery carries its risks.

It would help if you talked to your doctor about how much it can help, recovery time, and more before taking that step. Many patients also try non-traditional therapies, including chiropractic and acupuncture.

Again, make sure your doctor knows if you are trying a non-traditional approach.

To alleviate the symptoms, it is recommended:

Exercise: Think moderation, not 100 push-ups. Walk for 30 minutes every day. Talk about any new exercise plan with your doctor.

Apply heat and cold: heat loosens your muscles. Cold helps heal inflammation. Wear one or the other on your neck or lower back. Hot showers are good too.

Practice good posture: stand straight, sit in a supportive chair, and sleep on a firm mattress. And when lifting heavy objects, bend your knees, not your back.

Lose Weight: There will be more pressure on your back when you are heavier.