Cervical stenosis occurs when there are obstructions in the passages that conduct the spinal cord and its peripheral nerves through the vertebral column. The cervical spine, or neck, can develop obstructions in the central spinal canal, through which the spinal cord descends from the brain through the neck and into the trunk and abdominal region. Obstructions can also occur in the openings between the cervical vertebrae that conduct nerves from the spinal cord to the peripheral nervous system.
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Arm pain caused by cervical spinal stenosis is called radiculopathy. Arm pain is often the symptom that initially causes individuals with cervical spinal stenosis to seek medical help.
The NeuroSpine Center of Wisconsin notes that this pain may develop slowly, over many years, and is intermittent. The slow progression of deterioration of the cervical spine may result in a delay in seeking treatment until severe cervical spinal stenosis occurs. When the patient begins experiencing radiculopathy, the condition is known as cervical stenosis with myelopathy.
In addition to the radiculopathy of the arms, those with cervical spinal stenosis may experience electrical shock-like sensations that shoot through the arms.
Leg Heaviness and Spasticity
The University of Maryland Medical Center notes that spinal canal stenosis can cause negative effects throughout the entire spinal cord. The spinal cord must pass through the central canal of the cervical spine before reaching the legs and feet. Compression of the spinal cord at the neck level, due to cervical spinal stenosis, can compromise the functions of the nervous system throughout the lower portion of the body, causing the sensation of heaviness in the legs. Loss of control of the leg muscles, known as spasticity, can make walking difficult. Inadequate motor neuron impulses to the leg muscles can cause strength to be decreased as well.
The autonomic nerves help regulate organ function throughout the body. Any impingement of these nerves can compromise a number of the functions necessary for life. MayoClinic.com states that severe cervical spinal stenosis may diminish the ability of autonomic nerves to conduct impulses to the bowel and bladder, resulting in incontinence.
Diminished Fine Motor Skills
Severe cervical stenosis can cause neuropathy, or nerve damage, in the motor neurons that enable the performance of fine motor skills such as writing or tying shoelaces, according to the NeuroSpine Center of Wisconsin.