The narrowest part of your spine — known as the cervical spine — runs through your neck. This slender structure must hold your 9-12 pound head at various angles, which can increase the amount of weight on your neck to up to 60 pounds. It’s no wonder, then, that 15% of the population experiences neck pain.
Board-certified pain management specialist Louis J. Raso, MD, PA, treats and diagnoses neck pain at his Jupiter, Florida, medical practice. See below for more information on a type of neck pain that’s common as you age: cervical stenosis.
Your spinal cord runs through the spinal canal, which is a ring of bones that are formed by the vertebrae and their laminae. The spinal canal protects your spinal cord, which is filled with sensitive nerves that control movement and sensation throughout your body.
As you age, the wear-and-tear on your cervical spine can cause osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis degrades and destroys the protective cartilage in your spine, causing bones to grind against one another, which then promotes inflammation that presses against spinal cord nerves.
When your bones start to grind against one another, they produce bony protrusions known as bone spurs. The bone spurs narrow your spinal canal and irritate nerves.
In addition to the inflammation and bone spurs that accompany arthritis, other conditions can narrow your spinal canal. A herniated vertebral disc can push into the spinal canal, impinging on a spinal cord nerve. Swollen, thickened ligaments can also crowd the spinal canal.
You might also develop cervical stenosis as the result of an accident or other type of trauma. The swollen, injured tissues or broken bones press against your spinal cord and nerves, causing pain and other symptoms. Other causes include tumors and birth defects.
Because the narrowed spinal canal presses against the spinal cord, which services your entire body, if you have spinal stenosis, you may develop a range of symptoms that you wouldn’t intuitively relate to your neck.
The severe compression of the spinal cord is called myelopathy, and pinched nerve roots are referred to as radiculopathy. Symptoms of spinal stenosis with myelopathy and radiculopathy include:
In severe cases of cervical stenosis, you might even have urinary or bowel incontinence. Treating cervical stenosis prevents complications such as incontinence and even paralysis.
When you have neck pain, Dr. Raso asks you about your symptoms, physically examines your neck, and evaluates your range of motion. He also orders imaging tests, such as X-rays, CTs, and MRIs. If he diagnoses cervical stenosis, he may recommend:
He may also recommend various surgeries, including one called a laminectomy. In a laminectomy, he removes a portion of a vertebra to widen your spinal canal in the areas where it’s impinging on nerves.
Find out if your neck pain is caused by cervical stenosis by calling us at 561-264-2929 to request an appointment.