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The vertebrae are a series of bones connected to each other forming the neck, also known as the cervical spine. The spinal canal, which encloses the spinal cord, runs through the vertebrae. The spinal cord contains major nerves that allow arm and leg movements, sensation, including bladder control and bowel movements.
Cervical stenosis is the condition characterized by the narrowing of the spinal canal. It occurs with age as the intervertebral discs starts to lack water content and hardens. The discs can shrink in height and stick out into the spinal canal. Spinal joints also bulge and protrude into the spinal canal. When the spinal canal narrows, the resulting pressure on the spinal cord leads to another condition called cervical myelopathy, which affects nerve functions.
Cervical stenosis usually does not have symptoms. If it has advanced to cervical myelopathy, the patient may experience neck and arm pain, weakness, and difficulty in moving the arms and legs. Incontinence also occurs in later stages of the disease. Symptoms may appear gradually or develop rapidly.
Early detection plays a crucial role in the prevention and treatment of cervical stenosis and cervical myelopathy. Your doctor will perform a physical examination and diagnostic tests and recommend an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging ) and CT (Computed Tomography) scan to be able to see the level of narrowing of the spinal canal. You may have to undergo other tests for a complete diagnosis.
What are the treatments for Cervical Stenosis?
Depending on the stage of cervical stenosis, treatments may be operative or non-operative. Usually, patients who have severe fragility and pain in the affected areas and difficulty in walking require surgery. Non-operative or conservative treatment, which includes cervical stenosis physical therapy, is ideal for mild cases.
Patients should understand that cervical stenosis physical therapy would not reduce the narrowing of the spinal canal or bring it back to normal size. The goal of cervical stenosis physical therapy is long-term pain management and increased function that will enable the patient to control pain effectively and function normally without having to undergo surgery.
Cervical stenosis physical therapy starts with improving flexibility in the neck, arms and legs through stretching exercises. It is also important to increase circulation and develop endurance in the arms and legs with cardiovascular exercises such as swimming and treadmill exercises. Your therapist may also add strengthening exercises in your program. While most of these exercises are always under professional supervision, your therapist will also provide you with exercises that you can perform independently.
Supervised cervical stenosis physical therapy may take three or more months. If your condition does not improve after cervical stenosis physical therapy, your physician will then recommend surgery.