Think about the seven small vertebrae that make up your cervical spine and the enormous workload they’re under — they not only carry the weight of your head, they also provide your head with critical range of motion. Over time, your neck may begin to succumb to the aging process in a progressive condition known as cervical stenosis, causing both local and radiating problems.
At Texas Spine Consultants, as our name suggests, Dr. Michael Ware Hennessy and our team specialize in the highly complex structures that make up your back and neck, and we understand the many conditions that can impede function.
One of the more common degenerative conditions we treat is spinal stenosis, which is a narrowing of your spinal canal. And when stenosis strikes your neck, it can lead to a number of symptoms that affect not only your neck, but your upper and lower extremities.
Here’s a quick look at cervical stenosis and the four most common signs that you may have the condition.
Behind the narrowing
Cervical stenosis is a progressive condition that we typically spot in patients over the age of 50. While the symptoms usually begin after the age of 50, the stenosis may have been progressing for years without you being aware of the condition.
As we mentioned above, stenosis is a narrowing of your spinal canal, which is usually the result of an overgrowth of bone due to osteoarthritis or just gradual wear-and-tear. Previous trauma can also lead to stenosis, as well as any condition that crowds your spinal canal, such as a tumor.
As the stenosis progresses, your spinal cord can become compressed, which can lead to both local and radiating symptoms in a condition known as myelopathy.
Pain and stiffness in your neck
When your spinal cord is compressed in your cervical spine, you may begin to notice pain and discomfort in your neck. With cervical stenosis, the pain is usually a soreness or achy feeling that can worsen throughout the day.
You may also feel increasing stiffness, preventing you from fully turning your head. And when you do move your neck, you may feel and hear a crackling sound.
In cases where myelopathy is present, you may experience shooting pain in your arms and hands, especially with certain movements.
Numbness and tingling
Cervical stenosis with myelopathy often leads to numbness and tingling in your upper extremities, though it can also affect your lower extremities in moderate-to-severe cases.
The numbness and tingling may be sporadic or ongoing, depending upon the nerve involvement, and affect your ability to use your hands.
Loss of fine motor skills
If your cervical stenosis advances, you may begin to lose the fine motor skills in your hands, making activities like writing, tying your shoes, or buttoning up a shirt more difficult.
Problems with balance
With moderate-to-severe cervical stenosis with myelopathy, you may experience problems with balance and movement. For example, your legs may feel heavy and unresponsive or you may have problems changing your gait. As well, you may find yourself needing more support when you’re upright.
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, we urge you to come see us as soon as possible. With cervical stenosis, early diagnosis and intervention are key to relieving your symptoms and getting you back to normal function.
To learn more about cervical stenosis or to set up an appointment, contact one of our two locations in Addison or Plano, Texas.