Understanding all the possible varieties of cervical spinal stenosis symptoms will help patients to achieve more accurate diagnoses and will also assist them with pursuing indicated treatment. Cervical stenosis is the second most common type of central canal impingement, only beaten by the extremely typical diversity of lumbar stenotic changes seen later in life. Since cervical stenosis affects the neck, most patients assume that symptoms will only be expressed locally or in the upper body. However, this is a fallacy. In fact, symptoms of cervical stenosis can occur virtually anywhere in the anatomy, making positive diagnosis of the causative process a challenging endeavor.
This essay details all the possible symptoms of cervical spinal canal stenosis, including preliminary and advanced stage expressions that might be seen in many patients.
Lack of Cervical Spinal Stenosis Symptoms
The anatomy of the neck suffers degeneration as a normal part of its lifecycle. Disc deterioration, osteoarthritic growth, intervertebral bulging and changes in lordosis can all narrow the effective size of the central canal and the neuroforaminal spaces in the cervical spine. Because of all these contributing factors, cervical stenosis is very commonly demonstrated, especially in older adults. Most physicians view cervical stenosis as being normal for elderly patients to experience to some degree.
Patients must understand that most cases of cervical stenosis will not cause symptoms. Although the patency of the central canal might be reduced, there may still be adequate room for the neurological functionality of the spinal cord to be fully preserved. We have seen many drastic-looking cases of cervical stenosis imaged on MRI studies, yet many of the patients remained completely asymptomatic, despite these obvious structural changes to the central canal. Just because stenosis is present does not mean that symptoms are definitively sourced by the canal narrowing, nor does it mean that symptoms will ever become present in the future, even as the stenotic changes possibly progress.
Early Onset Cervical Spinal Stenosis Symptoms
In cases where symptoms do result from cervical stenosis, they might be highly individualized and case-specific. There is no universal expression of stenosis, especially when it exists in the neck region. It is vital to remember that symptoms might occur anywhere below the stenotic levels of the neck. This is crucial to understand if new symptoms begin or if some lower body expressions remain, despite treatment of theorized lumbar causations. Some of the more common preliminary stenosis symptoms from cervical central canal narrowing can include any of the following:
Patients might have localized pain in the neck, or pain virtually anywhere below the affected vertebral region.
Patients might demonstrate neurological symptoms locally in the cervical spine or virtually anywhere below the affected stenotic levels. These symptoms can include pins and needles, weakness, numbness or burning.
Patients might experience tension-style headaches, especially if the stenosis exists in the upper cervical levels. These are often referred to as cervicogenic headaches.
Progressive Cervical Spinal Stenosis Symptoms
In advanced cases of stenosis, or in cases where minor symptoms are left unchecked, the expressions might progress to include worsened versions of old symptoms or may include new consequences of spinal cord compression:
Patients might slowly lose the sensation of pain, to be replaced by large areas of objective numbness.
Patients might experience a loss of dexterity and coordination in their hands or feet. Motor skills are likely to suffer.
Patients might perceive a “neural disconnect” with unresponsive areas of their body.
Patients might suffer balance disorders.
Patients might not be able to stand or walk.
Patients might suffer incontinence. This terrible affliction can affect the urinary or fecal systems together or separately.
Patients might not be able to demonstrate sexual functionality.
Patients may become partially or completely paralyzed in extreme stenotic scenarios.
Patients may be placed at elevated risk for strokes, heart failure, organ failure and other dire health threats.
Cervical Spinal Stenosis Symptoms Summary
Patients should always seek qualified diagnosis for any suspected stenosis conditions in the upper vertebral column. If discovered, these canal impingement issues should be monitored by a neurologist, even if symptoms are not present. Symptomatic version of stenosis should be treated, to prevent the possibility of suffering lasting spinal cord injury and subsequent neurological dysfunction.
For more information on understanding the many possible symptoms of cervical stenosis, talk to your doctor or continue your research on this website by reading our full cervical spinal stenosis section.