Cervical spinal stenosis is the constricting of the spinal canal in the neck. The spinal canal is the open area in the bones (vertebrae) that make the spinal column. The spinal cord is a group of nerves that run through the spinal canal from the base of the human brain to the lower back. These nerves allow you to feel, to move, and to control the intestinal, bladder and various other body functions. In cervical spinal stenosis, the spinal canal narrows and can pinch and compress the nerve roots exactly where they exit the spinal cord, or it may irritate or injure the spinal cord itself. The seven vertebrae between the head and the chest compose the cervical spine. Squeezing the nerves and cord in the cervical spine can change specifically how the spinal cord functions and can trigger tightness, pain, and numbness in the neck, hands, and legs.
What causes cervical spinal stenosis?
Cervical spinal stenosis is usually caused by age-related changes in the structure of the spinal canal, and so is most common in people older than age 50. The aging process can cause a "bulging of the discs", when the spongy discs between the bones of the spine bulge out farther than normal, or a thickening of tissues that connect bones (ligaments). Aging can additionally lead to break down of tissues that cover bones (cartilage) and excessive expansion of the bones in joints. These conditions can reduce the area within the spinal canal (spinal stenosis).
Numerous people older than age 50 have some narrowing of the spinal canal but do not display symptoms. Cervical spinal stenosis does not trigger symptoms unless the spinal cord or nerves becomes compressed.