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Cervical Spinal Stenosis


Peter J. Moley

, MD, Hospital for Special Surgery

Reviewed/Revised Oct 2022
Topic Resources

Cervical spinal stenosis is narrowing of the spinal canal in the neck. The narrowing squeezes (compresses) the nerves and sometimes the spinal cord causing neck pain and sometimes weakness and abnormal sensations in the arms or legs.

The spinal canal runs through the center of the spine and contains the spinal cord Spinal Cord The spinal cord is a long, fragile tubelike structure that begins at the end of the brain stem and continues down almost to the bottom of the spine. The spinal cord consists of bundles of nerve... read more and the bundle of nerves that extends downward from the bottom of the spinal cord in the lower back.

The Spinal Cord

Along the length of the spinal cord are the spinal nerves. The spinal nerves emerge from the sides through spaces between the vertebrae to connect with nerves throughout the body. The part of the spinal nerve nearest the spinal cord is called the spinal nerve root. Because of their location, spinal nerve roots can be squeezed when the spinal canal is narrowed, resulting in pain.

The Spine

A column of bones called vertebrae make up the spine (spinal column). The vertebrae protect the spinal cord (a long, fragile structure contained in the spinal canal), which runs through the center of the spine. Between the vertebrae are disks composed of cartilage, which help cushion the spine and give it some flexibility.

Spinal nerves: Emerging from the spinal cord between the vertebrae are 31 pairs of spinal nerves. Each nerve emerges in two short branches (roots)—motor and sensory—which join to form a spinal nerve.

The motor roots carry commands from the brain and spinal cord to other parts of the body, particularly to skeletal muscles.

The sensory roots carry information to the brain from other parts of the body.

Cauda equina: The spinal cord ends about three fourths of the way down the spine, but a bundle of nerves extends beyond the cord. This bundle is called the cauda equina because it resembles a horse's tail. The cauda equina carries nerve impulses to and from the legs, lower intestine, and bladder.

How the Spine Is Organized

Symptoms of Cervical Spinal Stenosis

Diagnosis of Cervical Spinal Stenosis

  • A doctor's evaluation

  • Sometimes imaging tests, electrodiagnostic studies, or both

Doctors typically make the diagnosis of cervical spinal stenosis based on the person's symptoms and physical examination. During a physical examination, doctors check a person's strength and reflexes.

Treatment of Cervical Spinal Stenosis

  • Measures to relieve pain

  • Sometimes surgery for severe pain

Measures to relieve pain

People should sleep on their back with a thin pillow under the neck to keep the cervical spine aligned.


When measures to relieve pain are not effective in people with cervical stenosis, surgery may be needed to relieve pressure on the spinal cord and spinal nerves.

One surgical procedure is called a cervical laminectomy, in which a portion of the vertebrae called the lamina is removed, taking pressure off the spinal cord and spinal nerves. Laminectomy of the cervical spine is almost always includes attachment of adjacent vertebrae (fusion) to avoid a common consequence of abnormal curvature of the spine in the neck (cervical kyphosis). The more common approach is a cervical decompression from the front (anterior) combined with a removal of the disc and fusion.

Drugs Mentioned In This Article

Generic Name Select Brand Names
7T Gummy ES, Acephen, Aceta, Actamin, Adult Pain Relief, Anacin Aspirin Free, Apra, Children's Acetaminophen, Children's Pain & Fever , Comtrex Sore Throat Relief, ED-APAP, ElixSure Fever/Pain, Feverall, Genapap, Genebs, Goody's Back & Body Pain, Infantaire, Infants' Acetaminophen, LIQUID PAIN RELIEF, Little Fevers, Little Remedies Infant Fever + Pain Reliever, Mapap, Mapap Arthritis Pain, Mapap Infants, Mapap Junior, M-PAP, Nortemp, Ofirmev, Pain & Fever , Pain and Fever , PAIN RELIEF , PAIN RELIEF Extra Strength, Panadol, PediaCare Children's Fever Reducer/Pain Reliever, PediaCare Children's Smooth Metls Fever Reducer/Pain Reliever, PediaCare Infant's Fever Reducer/Pain Reliever, Pediaphen, PHARBETOL, Plus PHARMA, Q-Pap, Q-Pap Extra Strength, Silapap, Triaminic Fever Reducer and Pain Reliever, Triaminic Infant Fever Reducer and Pain Reliever, Tylenol, Tylenol 8 Hour, Tylenol 8 Hour Arthritis Pain, Tylenol 8 Hour Muscle Aches & Pain, Tylenol Arthritis Pain, Tylenol Children's, Tylenol Children's Pain+Fever, Tylenol CrushableTablet, Tylenol Extra Strength, Tylenol Infants', Tylenol Infants Pain + Fever, Tylenol Junior Strength, Tylenol Pain + Fever, Tylenol Regular Strength, Tylenol Sore Throat, XS No Aspirin, XS Pain Reliever
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