From the day we’re born, we don’t get any younger. Our bodies develop, hit a plateau, and then slowly begin degenerating. Just about everybody experiences neck pain at one time or another. Some people experience it more than others. Unless traumatically induced by an accident, most people that experience neck pain suffer from degenerative changes in the cervical spine.
The spine is divided into three areas. The cervical spine refers to the neck region. The thoracic spine is in the middle of the body, and the lumbar spine is in the lower back. No matter what part of the spine they are located in, degenerative changes occur in the joints between each spinal vertebra where the discs are located. Spinal stenosis is the most serious form of spinal degeneration and can be the source of significant pain and discomfort.
The bones in the cervical spine consist of seven cervical vertebrae. Stenosis comes from the Greek word “stenos” which means narrow. In spinal stenosis, the spaces in the spine degenerate and become narrow, putting pressure on spinal nerve roots and sometimes on the spinal cord itself. Cervical spine stenosis usually causes symptoms in the shoulders, arms, and fingers, resulting in weakness, cramping, numbness, tingling, or pain.
Degenerative spinal stenosis is usually treated as conservatively as possible. This often involves nonsurgical treatment using acupuncture, physical therapy, or chiropractic treatment. Many chiropractors supplement their spine treatment with the same physical therapy modalities as physical therapists. Chiropractic treatment involves spinal adjustments or manipulations that are intended to restore spinal movement to the point of maximum medical improvement relative to the patent’s condition when they began treatment.
Other conservative treatment for cervical spine stenosis involves medication such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen to reduce inflammation and relieve pain. Steroid or trigger point injections are the next step if or drug therapy is not successful.
The objective of any surgery for cervical spine stenosis is to relieve pressure on spinal nerves and properly align the spine again. This is done through removal, paring or adjusting the diseased cervical spine components. The surgical procedure for this is called a decompression laminectomy. It alleviates pressure on a nerve by creating more space for it. For proper vertebral alignment, fusion of two vertebrae might be necessary.
In the context of long term prognosis, surgery generally provides some pain relief while increasing mobility. The degenerative process will continue though with aging.