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What Are the Dangers of Moderate Cervical Stenosis?

by
author image Christian Walker, Ph.D.
Dr. Christian Walker began writing professionally in 1982. He has published in the fields of surgery, neurology, rehabilitation and orthopedics, with work appearing in various journals, including the "Journal of the American Osteopathic Association" and "European Neurological Society." Walker holds a Doctor of Philosophy in medical physiology from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.
What Are the Dangers of Moderate Cervical Stenosis?
Doctor looking at a spinal cord x-ray with a patient Photo Credit dolgachov/iStock/Getty Images

Overview

Cervical stenosis is when the bony spinal canal narrows. Since the spinal cord occupies this space, narrowing may produce pressure against the spinal cord. This can result in symptoms of spinal cord irritation and damage. This condition can be caused by a number of reasons. To treat cervical stenosis, doctors usually opt for nonsurgical therapies first. If they fail or if symptoms worsen, then surgery is usually recommended.

Legs and Hands

One of the common problems associated with cervical stenosis is abnormalities in walking behavior. According to eOrthopod, signals to the muscles of the legs all pass through the cervical spinal cord. If the spinal cord is disrupted then the signals to the legs are changed. As the stenosis worsens walking gets jerky and the patient loses strength in the legs. This condition is called spasticity. Without treatment spasticity worsens. Most patients also feel symptoms in the hands. Numbness is a common complaint and many complain that they feel clumsy when doing fine motor tasks like typing or writing. Gripping and letting go also can become a problem as the muscles of the palm and fingers become weak.

Shoulder Problems

In many patients shoulder weakness occurs with cervical stenosis. It is most common when the spinal cord compression occurs in the high cervical or upper area of the neck. The shoulder blade muscles and the deltoid muscle generally are most affected, according to eOrthopod. As these muscles weaken with progressive cervical stenosis they begin to show signs of wasting. Sometimes, there can be burning sensations with tingling and pins and needles from the shoulder to the hand.

Pain

As the compression on the spinal cord continues with stenosis, eOrthopod states that the spinal nerves which supply the arm and hand become affected as well. Pressure on these tissues can produce pain which feels as though it radiates from the neck to the shoulder, into the upper back and down one or both arms. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases states that as the condition worsens this pain can persist and also be accompanied with numbness on the surface of the arm and hand or weakness in those muscles.

Bladder and Bowel Problems

Even though the bladder and bowels are relatively far from the cervical spinal cord, stenosis there can create problems in these areas. Compression on the spinal cord can produce feelings of urinary urgency and also cause urinary hesitancy. However, more moderate pressure can cause disturbances in urinary flow. During bowel movements, the patient must strain to defecate. As the condition progresses even more, the patient becomes incontinent, which means there is a loss of voluntary bladder and bowel control.

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