Cervical Stenosis

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Cervical stenosis develops when either the spinal canal or nerve passageways (foramen) become narrow. It’s a common cause of neck pain.

If the spinal canal becomes narrow, the disorder is also known as cervical central stenosis. If the nerve passageways become narrow, it is called cervical foraminal stenosis. When either condition develops, the spinal cord and/or nerves are compressed. You may have both types of cervical stenosis.

You may be born with this narrowing. However, most cases of cervical stenosis develop in patients over age 50 and results from aging and wear and tear of the spine.

Many patients with cervical stenosis have a history of neck injury or trauma. Trauma may have occurred months or years before the onset of stenosis symptoms.

Symptoms of Cervical Stenosis

The symptoms of cervical spinal stenosis may include:

  • Neck pain
  • Pain, weakness or numbness in the shoulders, arms and legs
  • Hand clumsiness
  • Gait and balance disturbances
  • Burning sensations, tingling and pins and needles in the involved extremity, such as the arm or leg
  • In severe cases, bladder and bowel problems
  • Although rare, severe cases can cause loss of function or paraplegia

Diagnosis & Treatment at UVA

Your doctor will ask about your medical history and perform a physical exam. Diagnostic tests may include:

  • X-rays
  • CT scans
  • MRI scans
  • Myelography

Find out about nonoperative treatments.

Surgical Treatment

You may require surgery if nonsurgical measures are unsuccessful. The goal of surgery is to decompress the spinal cord and nerve roots. Decompression involves removal or trimming of whatever is causing compression.

Surgical procedures:

  • Decompressive laminectomy is a common surgical procedure to treat cervical stenosis. This procedure removes the lamina (vertebral roof) to create more space in the spinal canal for nerves. If your surgeon only removed part of the lamina, the procedure is known as a decompressive laminotomy.
  • posterior laminoplasty expands the size of the spinal canal by lifting the lamina on one side. This procedure retains spinal stability and reduces the need for fusion. 
  • discectomy removes part of or an entire disc, such as a herniated disc that compresses nerve structures.  
  • foraminotomy enlarges the size of the foramen to decompress nerve roots.
  • Instrumentation and fusion stabilizes the spine and may be combined with another procedure, such as a discectomy. Instrumentation (i.e., screws, plates) and fusion (bone graft) joins and stabilizes two or more vertebrae. 


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.