Breaking Down Cervical Spine Conditions: Cervical Stenosis and Cervical Myelopathy
What is Cervical Stenosis?
The spinal canal is the hollow passage formed by the spine through which the spinal cord travels. Cervical spinal stenosis refers to the portion of the spinal cord in the neck (cervical region) being pinched in the canal (stenosis).
As arthritis progresses in the spine, it can lead to wearing of the discs and presence of bony spurs that can cause narrowing of the spinal canal and pinching of the spinal cord.
If the spinal cord becomes significantly compressed it can lead to a condition called cervical myelopathy in which the spinal cord is too damaged to function normally.
What symptoms to watch out for with cervical myelopathy:
- Difficulty with balance
- Trouble with fine motor tasks (i.e. buttoning buttons, handwriting changes)
- Clumsiness in the hands
- Tingling, numbness or heaviness in arms and legs
What to do if you have cervical myelopathy
A spine specialist can perform a thorough physical exam. You may need advanced imaging such as an MRI or CT scan. You may also require nerve conduction studies known as electromyelograms (EMGs) which can help assess nerve damage.
Treatment Options for Cervical Myelopathy
Mild symptoms may only require observation. For progressive symptoms or acutely presenting symptoms, it is important that the pressure is taken off the spinal cord in order to stop the progression of spinal cord injury and avoid paralysis.
Because this is a disease that progresses slowly, many people do not present to the office until symptoms are more apparent. It is not necessarily a painful condition, but It is important for patients to be educated on these symptoms in order to notify their spinal specialist of any changes that occur.