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What are the symptoms of cervical (upper spine) canal stenosis?

Cervical canal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal in the neck. A number of factors can contribute to the development of this relatively common condition, most of which are associated with degenerative changes in the upper spine. By far, the most common cause is age-related cervical osteoarthritis, which usually develops after years of wear and tear on the neck.

A canal stenosis diagnosis is not necessarily a cause for alarm. Because the condition may produce only mild discomfort (or none at all), treatment is not always required. However, the spinal canal houses and protects the spinal cord and a network of nerve roots. Therefore, spinal narrowing in the neck region can potentially be painful if sensitive nerve tissue becomes irritated or pinched.

What does cervical narrowing feel like?

Some people who have canal stenosis do not experience any symptoms. Instead, they become aware of the condition only after having an imaging test performed for an unrelated reason. It is possible to live comfortably with cervical narrowing, sometimes for many years.

Typically, when cervical canal stenosis causes symptoms, the discomfort is minimal at first and then worsens gradually with time. The severity of the discomfort can vary considerably depending on the site of the narrowing and the spinal nerves that become compressed as a result.

Some common symptoms of canal stenosis that involve nerve compression in the upper spine include:

  • Neck pain and stiffness
  • Numbness or tingling sensations that travel from the neck through a shoulder, arm and hand
  • Muscle weakness in a leg or foot
  • Balance and coordination problems
  • Walking difficulties
  • Urinary urgency or incontinence (in very serious cases)

When do cervical canal stenosis symptoms require surgical treatment?

In general, surgery may be considered to address cervical canal stenosis if the resulting nerve compression causes disabling pain, mobility issues or incontinence. For instance, a surgeon may recommend a procedure to create more space in the spinal canal for crowded nerve roots.

If you’re interested in learning how canal stenosis can be addressed with minimally invasive spine surgery, contactUSA Spine Care to request a free MRI review.* Our team can explain the benefits and risks of our minimally invasive outpatient procedures and help you decide if you are a candidate.

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