Cervical Stenosis

cervical stenosisCervical stenosis is a major cause of neck and shoulder pain specifically in older people. Some people are born with cervical stenosis and other cases include people above 50 years old who are suffering the effect of the wearing and tearing of the spine.


Stenosis is a term used to describe the narrowing of the canal that guards the spinal cord and the nerves in it. Stenosis in the neck affects the arms, shoulders and hands. Cervical stenosis is also caused by certain conditions such as a rupture of the spinal disc, which is the spongy part of the vertebrae that prevents friction between two vertebrae.

Cervical stenosis causes neck pain which may radiate to other areas like the hands and arms. When you are suffering from this condition, you may feel numbness and weakness of the lower extremities as well.


Getting the correct diagnosis is important to ensure the right treatment. The diagnostic process usually includes taking your medical history, a physical examination and diagnostic tests.

When you see the doctor for the first time, your medical history will be recorded. You may be asked questions about the symptoms you are experiencing to determine if it is severe or not, questions on what treatments you have tried and if you have had any trauma or injuries.

Next the doctor will do a physical examination to check for restricted movements and pain. The doctor will check your extremities for weakness, loss of reflexes and sensation.

Diagnostic tests are usually the next step. X-rays would be taken to rule out any problems like infections or tumor growth. To get a clear picture of the cervical spine, doctors would also prefer CT or MRI scans for a 3D view.

A myelogram, which involves the injection of dye along with x-rays may be done to the spinal column to determine if there is pressure or blockage.

One of the primary symptoms of cervical stenosis is neck and shoulder pain. If the pain starts to become worse, you should seek medical care. To evaluate the urgency, consider the following:

  • For simple injuries like a bruise or strain, it does not require immediate attention,
  • For a continuous pain in the neck and shoulders, an immediate evaluation of a health care provider is needed.
  • It is advisable to go to the nearest emergency department if there is a stern and aggravating pain, numbness, weakness, malformation, color changes and coolness. This indicates that there is restricted amount of blood supply in a certain area.

If you are ever in any doubt, always call either your doctor or the nearest emergency room.


Treatments for this condition fall under two categories– conservative treatment and surgical treatment.

For conservative treatment, the use of anti-inflammatory and pain medications is advised. The use of a cervical collar depends on the extent of the injury and the nerves involved in the damage.

Others may be instructed to restrict their activities to prevent further damage to the nerves. Physical therapy is also prescribed to keep the neck strong and stabilized.

Surgical treatment for cervical stenosis is typically de-compressive laminectomy where the laminae are removed to provide more space for the nerves.

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