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Cervical Stenosis Doesn’t have to be a Pain in the Neck!

Have you heard the term “cervical stenosis” and wondered what could that possibly mean?  Neck pain can already be frustrating, so trying to understand it shouldn’t be more of a pain in the neck! Neck pain is one of the most common types of cases we see. If you’re over the age of 50 and experiencing neck pain, you’re not alone! It’s estimated that cervical stenosis is present in 6.8% of those fifty years of age or older, and 9% of those seventy year of age or older (1). To understand how you can start to feel better and be able to do more, let’s take a look at the root cause. Below, I have listed the main 3 topics I will be covering:

  • What is stenosis?
  • How can physical therapy help?
  • How can you start to move better?

The word “stenosis” means “narrowing.”

Our vertebrae are bones that are stacked on top of each other, forming a canal for the spinal cord to run through. They also form spaces for nerves to branch off of the spinal cord. Between each vertebrae contains a disc, made of a gelatinous fluid material. Over time these discs tend to lose fluid and “dry out.” The discs shrink in size, and the vertebrae become compressed together. This is the same reason we shrink in height as we age.

As this process happens the spinal canal and the spaces for nerves also become compressed, narrowing in size. The spinal cord and nerve roots then become compressed, leading to symptoms of pain and difficulty moving the neck.

How can a physical therapist help?

So you may be thinking, if my symptoms are from changes in the anatomy, there’s nothing I can do to change that, right? While we can’t undo this process of narrowing, there is still quite a lot that can be done to get you moving better and more comfortably! A physical therapist can help teach you the proper ways to move to take pressure off of the spinal cord and nerves. “Gapping” the vertebrae can give those nerves relief, putting those tissues in the proper environment to heal. Using heat can also be a helpful aide to relieve inflammation and irritation.

A physical therapist will also teach you movements and activities that you should avoid or limit while those irritated nerves calm down. Often patients will report “It hurts to look up above me” or “it hurts turning my head side to side.”  These are movements that further compress those spaces and may need to be temporarily limited.

We should also take a look at the upper back and shoulders!

The neck, upper back, and shoulder blades all work to move together, and if one part isn’t moving well, another part may pay the price.  Chances are you may have slowly, but surely, noticed the forward head posture and rounded shoulders that we all seem to develop as we get older. This forces the neck to extend upwards, just to be able to keep looking straight forward. When the neck is stuck in this position, it only further closes those spaces and compresses the nerves even more. A PT can help you to improve this posture and move the neck in a better position.

“I’m just getting older…aches and pains are a part of life”

If this sounds like you, a PT can help change your mind! Many of the aches and pains that we attribute to age can be prevented by addressing the root cause with better movement patterns, and cervical stenosis is no different. Getting older doesn’t have to be a pain in the neck!

If you suffer from neck pain and would like to schedule your free discovery visit with Buffalo Rehab Group, click the link below.

Lee M, Cassinelli E, Riew D. Prevalence of Cervical Spine Stenosis. Anatomic Study in Cadavers. The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. 2007;89(2).