Spinal Stenosis vs. Cervical Spondylotic Myelopathy


Many different conditions can affect the cervical spine, or the neck. Some factors that may cause neck problems are age, lifestyle, work, diet and your genetics. Different conditions may require different treatments — from rest to physical therapy to spinal surgery. This blog covers the differences between two of the common problems orthopedic specialists find in the cervical spine: spinal stenosis and cervical spondylotic myelopathy.

Spinal Stenosis

The term “spinal stenosis” may refer to slightly different conditions. When the central part of the spinal becomes narrow, that is considered central stenosis. When the bony archway that houses the spinal nerve roots — or the foramen — becomes narrow, the diagnosis may be foraminal stenosis, which can cause pressure on the exiting nerve root.

People with spinal stenosis may experience neck pain, as well as either abnormal sensations in the arms and hands or a lack of feeling in the arms and hands.

To diagnose this condition, doctors will frequently have a patient undergo an MRI or computerized tomography (CT) scan. Treatment often includes rest, anti-inflammatory medication, steroid injections and physical therapy.

Cervical Spondylotic Myelopathy

Cervical spondylotic myelopathy is a common type of spinal cord dysfunction that involves degeneration of discs or facet joints that are part of the cervical spine anatomy. It often affects people over the age of 55, and includes neurologic symptoms. Often problems with walking are the first sign of this condition.

Symptoms may also include numbness of the upper arms and compromised motor control in the hands. Patients may also experience neck and shoulder pain, and motor and sensory issues in both the arms and legs.

Spine surgery is often recommended to treat this condition at an early stage to prevent further neurologic deterioration. Doctors may opt for surgical procedures that include posterior surgical fusion or laminoplasty.

Surgery may also need to address the spondylosis — or degeneration of discs — in the cervical spine using an adjunct anterior fusion procedure, for example. Cervical spondylosis can also occur without myelopathy, which refers to the compression of the spinal cord.

If you have questions about cervical spine injury or think you might need surgery for neck pain, consult an orthopedic specialist. They can provide a diagnosis and determine the best surgical or non-operative treatment for your specific issue.

If you’re going to have spinal surgery, there are steps you can take to be prepared for a successful procedure and recovery.