Although it has a confusing name, cervical spondylosis with foraminal stenosis is actually extremely prevalent. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, up to 85 percent of people over the age of 60 experience this condition. Fortunately, cervical spine exercises can help reduce its symptoms.
Cervical foraminal stenosis exercises that focus on the muscles surrounding the spine in your neck can help alleviate your pain.
What Is Cervical Spondylosis?
Cervical spondylosis is essentially a fancy name for arthritis in the neck. This condition typically occurs as a result of wear and tear over the duration of your life. Your spine is composed of 24 individual vertebrae (7 of which are in your cervical, or neck, region). Between the vertebrae are discs which act like cushions, and facet joints which help the different levels of your spine move in various directions.
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As reported by the Cleveland Clinic, several different processes (all of which are collectively referred to as cervical spondylosis) can occur simultaneously as we age. The discs in your back start to lose their height which may lead to their gelatinous insides pushing or herniating out. This loss of disc height can also increase the pressure on the facet joints, which causes the smooth, slippery cartilage on the joint's surface to degenerate.
Finally, the increased pressure on this area can cause a buildup of bone to occur near the facet joints. Sometimes this bony buildup can start to encroach on the holes along the spine (called foramen) where the nerves exit. This is referred to as foraminal stenosis, and can cause its own set of issues.
What Symptoms Does It Cause?
For the majority of individuals, cervical spondylosis causes minimal to no symptoms. Unfortunately, in some instances this is not the case. The Mayo Clinic reports that the most common symptoms associated with this condition are pain and stiffness in the neck. These issues can impact your range of motion when rotating your neck, looking up or down, or bending your head from side to side. The symptoms can also make everyday activities like driving, washing your hair or exercising much more difficult.
In addition, when the cervical spondylosis begins to progress and foraminal stenosis occurs, you may start to experience pain, numbness or tingling down your arms and into your wrist and hands. This occurs because the boney buildup starts to make contact with the spinal nerves exiting through the foramen. This may also cause progressive weakness in the muscles in your arms. Try the following foraminal stenosis physical therapy exercises to help combat these potentially disabling symptoms.
1. Try Some Cervical Retraction
This is one of the cervical spine exercises that can be helpful for reducing neck pain, or even stopping it all together. It works by targeting the muscles that keep your neck in a more neutral position, and by decreasing the strain on the spinal structures.
- Sit in a chair with your feet on the ground and your body up against the chair's back. Make sure your buttocks are as far back as they can be.
- Look straight forward and retract your chin backwards as though you are giving yourself a double chin. As you do this, make sure you keep your eyes level and avoiding looking up or down with your neck.
- When you feel the muscles in the back of your neck start to activate, hold the position for 1 to 2 seconds before releasing the hold and returning to a relaxed position. Repeat the exercise eight to ten times, and try to do it three to four times daily.
2. Work Your Deep Cervical Flexors
According to a smaller, 40-patient study published in the May 2018 edition of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation, including exercises that target the deep cervical flexor muscles in the neck can help reduce the pain and disability associated with cervical spondylosis. This foraminal stenosis physical therapy exercise helps target these muscles, which lie deep within the neck and play an important role in stabilizing the spine.
- Lie on your back with your head resting on the ground, your knees bent and your feet on the floor.
- Without allowing the back of your head to lift off the floor, nod your chin as though you were rotating along an axis that passes through your ears. Again, this should cause you to (temporarily) get a double chin.
- When you feel a slight muscular strain in the back of your neck, hold the chin tuck for 5 to 10 seconds before releasing it and returning the initial position. Again, complete eight to ten repetitions and try the exercise up to four times daily.
3. Add in Scapular Retraction
Along with the muscles in your neck, your shoulder blade (scapular) muscles are extremely important in reducing the effects of spondylosis and foraminal stenosis. These structures help pull your shoulders down and back, and keep you in a more erect posture. In doing so, they assist in reducing the strain on your cervical spine. This is another one of the easy cervical foraminal stenosis exercises that can help reduce your symptoms.
- Stand with your arms hanging at your side and your neck in a neutral, non-slumped position.
- Without shrugging, pull your shoulders backwards as you move your shoulder blades into a down and back position. Visualize crushing a soda can with both shoulder blades as you do the exercise.
- Start by trying to hold the squeeze for 10 seconds and slowly work your way up to a 30 second hold. Try five repetitions each time and do this two times each day.
What If Symptoms Persist?
If these cervical foraminal stenosis exercises do not relieve your symptoms, more intervention may be necessary. This could include treatments like a formal round of foraminal stenosis physical therapy or further imaging (including an X-Ray, MRI, CT Scan or EMG). In some cases, pain relieving spinal injections are performed on the affected areas to temporarily help with the soreness. In rarer cases, a cervical spine surgery may even be necessary to stabilize the region and to decompress the joints and nerves in the area.
Should you experience worsening cervical spine or arm pain, or progressing numbness, tingling or weakness in these regions, it is very important to contact your physician immediately. These symptoms could be a sign that the condition is progressing. While it does not hurt to try some of these cervical spine exercises initially, it is important to seek medical care if they are ineffective, in order to avoid further worsening of your condition.
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: “Cervical Spondylosis (Arthritis of the Neck)”
- Cleveland Clinic: “Cervical Spondylosis”
- Mayo Clinic: “Cervical Spondylosis”
- Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation: “Effect of Deep Cervical Flexors Training on Neck Proprioception, Pain, Muscle Strength and Dizziness in Patients With Cervical Spondylosis: A Randomized Controlled Trial”
- North American Spine Society: "Cervical Exercise: The Backbone of the Spine"