When the spinal canal gets narrowed due to any reason, it puts pressure on the spinal cord. This condition is known as spinal stenosis. If the stenosis specifically affects the upper part of the spinal cord, it is known as cervical stenosis, and it is known as lumbar stenosis if it affects the lower part of the spine.
Some people are born with this condition, while others suffer from it in their old age due to extreme wear and tear of the spinal cord. Neck pain is one of the most usual symptoms. However, this pain is not always severe, hence people tend to ignore it, which is not the right thing to do.
Symptoms of Cervical Stenosis
People suffering from this problem experience symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Mild symptoms normally go unnoticed for a long time, as they are not bothersome. Some indicants which people need to be aware of are listed below:
✔ Pain in the Back and Hip
- The spinal cord tends to get narrow, and nerves in the lumbar spine also get compressed due to a herniated disk causing pain in the hips.
- The pain slowly extends to the arms and hands. It gets even worse when the person is sitting, and more often than not, the pain is experienced on one side of the body.
- Apart from the radiating pain, people also experience a little weakness and tingling or numbness in the legs.
✔ Pain in the Shoulders and Neck
- Due to the compression of the nerves in the spinal cord, people experience pain in their neck and shoulders. This pain is either episodic or chronic and at times extends to the arms and legs.
- If there are any major problems in the spinal cord due to nerve compression, it could make walking a little difficult and even result in weakness.
- Frequent headaches, head numbness, and muscle weakness are a few other possible problems that people face.
✔ Cramping in Legs
- Experiencing cramps in the legs is a more common symptom. Pseudoclaudication or wrong claudication occurs as a result of compression of the nerves in the lower spine, which causes cramps or pain in the legs, while standing for a long period or walking.
- The cramping or pain ceases when the person sits or bends forward but persists if he/she continues to stand straight.
- This pain gets worse when the person walks downhill. When arteries in the legs get blocked or narrowed, it leads to vascular claudication. This sort of a pain usually gets more severe when the person walks uphill.
✔ Bowel or Bladder Malfunction
- If the nerves of the bowel or bladder are affected, it results in a partial/complete involuntary urination or defecation.
- This happens only in extreme cases.
✔ Loss of Balance
- A symptom observed amongst people suffering from cervical stenosis is that they tend to lose their balance and fall a lot while walking.
- This problem occurs because the nerves, controlling a person's balance, get affected due to the pressure put on the cervical spinal cord.
This problem can be treated in both surgical and non surgical ways. There are various successful means to treat it without having to undergo a surgery. Doctors generally prescribe pain killers and certain anti-inflammatory medicines that help in relieving the condition. At times, the patient may be asked not to indulge in a few activities, to wear a neck brace or cervical collar, and to rest for a few days. Physical therapy exercises are considered to be effective in strengthening the muscles of the neck and improving muscle flexibility.
In certain cases, where non surgical methods do not work, surgery is suggested by doctors. The basic idea behind undertaking a surgery is to remove or trim the element from the spinal cord, which is causing nerve compression by widening the spinal canal. There are various techniques employed by surgeons to do this. A few have been enlisted below:
This procedure is used to remove any bulging disc that is responsible for the condition so that the canal space in the spine increases. It also enlarges the part around the nerve roots.
In this surgery, the roof (laminate) of the vertebra is removed to make more room for the nerves in the spinal canal.
☛ Spinal Fusion
This method is used to treat those people who require a major repair in their spinal cord or suffer from substantial spine instability. A tiny piece of any bone from the body is removed and grafted onto the spine. This surgery is usually coupled with spinal decompression to get the best results.
☛ Posterior Laminoplasty
This surgery is undertaken to restore spine stability and also to expand the spinal cord canal.
If any of the above-mentioned symptoms are observed, consult a doctor immediately. Surgery is not always necessary, although it is considered to be safe and the recovery period is also not very lengthy. Take adequate rest, and opt for a physiotherapy if advised by the doctor. Post-surgery pain and discomfort normally reduces within a couple of weeks, and the patients get back to normal within 2 to 3 weeks.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.