What symptoms are associated with cervical spinal stenosis?
The pain and symptoms are caused by the compression of the spinal cord and of the nerves. As you can probably imagine, pressure exerted on the spinal cord will cause you to experience pain and other symptoms. The spinal cord contains nerve tracts, which transmit the impulses issued by the cerebrum to the cells in the spinal cord from which the nerves governing the muscles develop. In addition, the spinal cord contains the long tracts, which transmit stimuli that arrive in the spinal cord to the brains.
Movement and sensibility disorders
When the spinal cord is compressed, movement and sensibility disorders may occur, causing patients to lose control of the movements made by their legs and causing them to start staggering and swaying. On the one hand, this is caused by the fact that such patients suffer reduced strength in their legs (which is known as paresis of the leg muscles); on the other, it is caused by the fact that they tend to be less able to sense the position and movements of their legs.
BIn addition to their partial inability to sense the position of their legs, patients also tend to be less sensitive to touch. Due to reduced sensation in their feet, they may feel as though they are wearing socks when walking, even when they are in fact barefoot. Furthermore, their loss of strength (paresis) will be of a spastic nature, which is to say that, despite having lost strength, their legs will not be flaccid, but rather stiffer than usual, causing them to feel as through they are sticking to the ground.
In addition to a motor disorder and reduced sensation in their legs, patients may also suffer urinary incontinence, which is to say that they do not control their urinary bladder and may lose urine at inconvenient times.
Shooting pain in the back, like an electric shock
Another symptom that is sometimes reported is a shooting pain in the back whenever the patient flexes his or her neck forward, as if the patient has received an electric shock. Like the aforementioned symptoms, this can be a sign that the spinal cord is being compressed. If the pressure on the spinal cord is not relieved, it may result in a complete interruption of the cord, i.e., paraplegia, which is characterised by complete paralysis and numbness of all parts of the body that are below the level of the damage. However, few patients ever reach this stage.
How it differs from a neck hernia
Cervical spinal stenosis symptoms greatly resemble those of a neck hernia. This is hardly to be wondered at, since both conditions may result in compression of the spinal cord and of the nerves branching off the cord. However, stenosis mostly causes compression of the spinal cord, whereas neck hernias mostly cause compression of the arm nerves branching off the spinal cord. Furthermore, the discomfort caused by stenosis generally has a gradual onset, which the discomfort caused by a neck hernia tends to have an acute onset.
Since the aforementioned pain and symptoms resemble those of other spinal cord conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, a neurological examination and imaging tests will be required to help the neurologist make the right diagnosis and provide the right treatment.