As we get older, age-related spinal degeneration becomes more common, which is one of the reasons why cervical stenosis most often appears in people over the age of 50. Cervical stenosis is a chronic condition in which the spinal canal in the region of the neck becomes increasingly narrower, causing the nerves that run through the spinal cord to become compressed, leading to cervical myelopathy, which involves a range of symptoms such as pain, tingling, numbness and weakness in the arms, and sometimes in the legs as well.
Normal everyday wear and tear on the spine begins to make its effects more known the older we get. The vertebral disks that cushion the spine begin to lose fluid and become less flexible. Small tears can occur in the discs, causing them to bulge into the area of the spinal canal. In addition, the bones of the vertebra itself may begin to break down, and in response to this the body tries to build bone on the site of the damage, creating bone spurs (osteophytes) that may also impinge on the area of the spinal canal.
Another condition that can arise as we age is the calcification of our ligaments. This causes them to harden and thicken, and if it involves the ligaments in the spine, this can also create pressure on the nerves that run through the spinal canal. Other possible causes are spondylolisthesis (where one vertebra slips out over the one below it), arthritis (both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis can be risk factors for cervical stenosis), tumors, trauma due to displacement of the discs and bone fragments from fractures that fall into the area of the spinal canal. Cervical stenosis that shows up in young people is generally due to a genetic defect that causes the development of a narrow spinal canal.
Mild cases of cervical stenosis often cause little or no pain and can be treated with non-invasive methods such as chiropractic care, physical therapy and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Your chiropractor can recommend exercises and stretches that will help to decompress the spinal canal and can use spinal manipulation to help realign misaligned vertebrae or apply traction to increase the space between the vertebral discs. In severe cases your chiropractor can refer you to a qualified neurosurgeon.
Corticosteroid injections are sometimes used to reduce inflammation and relieve pain, but these should not be used for a prolonged period of time, and its success is limited. If surgery is required, the surgeon will aim to create more space in the spinal canal so as to take the pressure off the nerves. This most usually involves a laminectomy, where a portion of the spine (the lamina) is removed to create more space for the nerves.