What is Cervical Spinal Stenosis
Cervical spinal stenosis occurs when the soft tissues and bones in the spine harden or become overgrown, putting pressure on the spinal cord and spinal nerve roots and causing pain, numbness or weakness in the legs. Cervical Stenosis most often occurs in adults over 60 years old. These degenerative changes in the spine are equally common in men and women; however, women are more likely to have symptoms that require treatment.
Causes of Cervical Stenosis
Arthritis, the degeneration of any joint in the body, is the most common cause of Cervical spinal stenosis. As we get older, our disks begin to dry out and weaken. This problem causes settling, or collapse, of the disk spaces and loss of disk space height. As the spine settles, two things occur. First, weight is transferred to the facet joints behind the spinal cord. Second, the tunnels that the nerves exit through become smaller.
As the facet joints experience increased pressure, they also begin to degenerate and develop arthritis, similar to the hip or knee joint. The cartilage that covers and protects the joints wears away. If the cartilage wears away completely, it can result in bone rubbing on bone. To make up for the lost cartilage, your body may respond by growing new bone in your facet joints to help support the vertebrae. Over time, this bone overgrowth, called spurs, may narrow the space for the nerves to pass through.
Another response to arthritis in the lower back is that ligaments around the joints increase in size. This also lessens space for the nerves. Once the space has become small enough to irritate spinal nerves, painful symptoms result.
Cervical Spinal Stenosis Symptoms
Back Pain –
People with spinal stenosis may or may not have back pain, depending on the degree of arthritis that has developed. Spinal nerves relay sensation in specific parts of the body. Pressure on the nerves can cause pain in the areas that the nerves supply.
Burning Pain in Buttocks or Legs (Sciatica) –
Pressure on spinal nerves can cause pain, such as an ache or burning feeling, in the areas that the nerves supply. It typically starts in the area of the buttocks and radiates down the leg.
Numbness or Tingling in Buttocks or Legs –
As pressure on the nerve increases, numbness and tingling often accompany the burning pain, although not all patients will have both burning pain and numbness and tingling.
Weakness in the legs or “foot drop” –
Once the pressure reaches a critical level, weakness can occur in one or both legs, causing the feeling of the foot to slap on the ground while walking.
Less pain with leaning forward or sitting –
Studies of the lumbar spine show that leaning forward can actually increase the space available for the nerves. Many patients may note relief when leaning forward and especially with sitting. Pain is usually made worse by standing up straight and walking. Some patients note that they can ride a stationary bike or walk leaning on a shopping cart. Walking more than one or two blocks, however, may bring on severe sciatica or weakness.