Cervical spinal stenosis occurs as a result of progressive (degenerative) changes in the vertebrae and discs leading to compression of the spinal cord (referred to as myelopathy).
The spinal cord, shown above, is a nerve bundle that runs from the base of the brain to the low back.
In a normal spine there is plenty of space for the spinal cord in the spinal canal.
Degenerative diseases, which usually occur slowly over time, cause the spinal canal to narrow, making you more at risk for developing spinal stenosis.
Osteoarthritis and herniated discs are 2 different types of degenerative diseases that can cause spinal stenosis. They can occur separately or concurrently.
This is an image of what occurs in cervical osteoarthritis. Over time, the cartilage between the facet joints degenerates, causing friction (shown here in red) between the bones. Bone spurs, or osteophytes, may form, as a result of the friction.
Osteophytes can irritate the nerves exiting the spinal canal through the foraminal opening. They can also encroach centrally on the spinal cord itself.
Herniated discs may also cause spinal stenosis. This image shows a cervical herniated disc herniating into the spinal canal, impinging nerve roots. Herniated discs can further impinge upon nerve roots that already have some foraminal compression due to osteoarthritis.
Symptoms and implications
Functioning of the spinal cord can be adversely affected by myleopathy.
If you suffer from myelopathy, you may notice uncoordination of your hands or a heavy feeling in your legs. You may develop a shuffling gate, or trip easily when you are walking. You may also have a combination of numbness, weakness, and pain in your arms, hands, and legs.
Symptoms may also include a loss of bladder or bowel control. It is important to know if you have cervical spinal stenosis with myleopathy because it can be permanently disabling if you allow it to progress too far. The good news is there are many treatments for this condition, including cervical decompression surgery.