Symptoms of cervical stenosis

Symptoms of cervical stenosis are caused by degenerative changes that occur in the FIVE joints between each pair of bones in the neck; tingling in the arms, hands and feet are common symptoms.

  1. One disc joint, a shock absorber.
  2. Two facet joints that guide and direct the movements of the head and neck, and
  3. Two uncinate joints of Luschka that support the disc, and prevent it herniating into the foramen and injuring the nerve roots.

This page was last updated on 19th July, 2019.

Symptoms are something you feel, like tingling and pain, whereas signs are measurable like a reflex. Here we use the term rather loosely to include both.

  1. Chiropractic Help
  2. Neck pain
  3. Symptoms of cervical stenosis
Symptoms of cervical stenosis include pressure on the spinal cord.

Further down this page you will read about synovial joints, and how it is vital that they are free to move to prevent this stenosis forming.

Cervical spinal stenosis is caused by the degenerative changes, called immobilisation arthritis, that occurs in these areas when the hyaline cartilage become arthritic in fixated joints.


The first signs of this degenerative process are discomfort and then later frank pain in the joints and muscles of the neck.

Then, when it begins affecting the nerves, referred pain starts, perhaps headaches, and often pain in the  mid-back and shoulder, or elbow and tingling and numbness in the arm and hand. More seriously, weakness may develop.

In the later stage of this immobilisation arthritis large bony spurs may start to affect not only the individual nerve roots but, by infringing on the spinal canal and pressing on the cord itself, they may cause cervical stenosis.

The size of the spinal canal literally becomes smaller and, as the spurs begin to affect the cord a large variety of symptoms of spinal stenosis may begin. This is called myelopathy. In Latin, myel has to do with the spinal cord; opathy simply means a condition of something, in this case the spinal cord, probably the most sensitive structure in the whole body.

Axial view of a neck vertebra.
Woman with neck pain.

Really the symptoms of cervical stenosis are more complicated, but we'll keep this simple. Let's just say that a large ligament in the spinal canal may become thickened after injury, a slipped disc can add to the woes by suddenly taking up more room and, very rarely, a tumour may slowly form within the canal.

Each vertebra in your neck has a large hole in the centre so that, when they stack on top of each other, they form a hollow tube, the spinal canal, which allows passage of and protects the cord and its nerve roots.

The spinal cord itself is a large collection of nerves that carry messages to and from your brain. These impulses run in both directions to the whole body; if those to your frame are impeded you may, for example, experience a deep sense of fatigue in the arms and legs and electric shocks running down the back when you flex your head.

If the messages running from your body to the brain are affected, then there may be numbness in the limbs, and loss of proprioception; your brain doesn’t know where your feet are in space, and you inexplicably may begin to stagger and lose your balance.

All the organs need nerves in order to function properly. Thus the symptoms of cervical stenosis can be experienced all over the body and, depending on which part of the spinal cord is affected, may vary considerably in different people.

If only one nerve root is affected, the symptoms will be felt on only one part of the body, for example in the ring and fifth finger.

Synovial joints

The uncinate and facet joints are what we call synovial joints lying on either side of the spinal nerves as they exit the spine via a foramen. Degenerative spurs may begin to crowd one or more of these nerve roots, causing cervical foraminal stenosis. As they grow progressively larger they may also begin to press on the spinal cord, causing cervical stenosis.

  • Tingling in arms and hands ...
  • Tingling in feet and legs ...


The cartilage lining these joints is in part protected by food containing large amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. These mackerel recipes should regularly be on the menu.

The cortico spinal tract may be affected by spinal stenosis.

Hyaline cartilage

Hyaline cartilage and its care is at the heart of chiropractic; it's also the subject of much research concerning substances such glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate; a healthy anti inflammatory diet is a vital part of the prevention of the symptoms of cervical stenosis.

I recommend rather than your regularly make up a chicken bones bouillon; it has all the cartilage extracts that you need to nourish your hyaline.

In a synovial joint, two bones lined with very hard, glistening-smooth, living cartilage (just look at the end of the thigh in a leg of lamb) are bathed in a nutrient-rich fluid that lubricates the joint and feeds the hyaline cartilage ...

Use the Site Search function in the navigation bar on your left to find the links to those topics such as immobilisation arthritis below highlighted in bold.

Synovial joints are lined with hyaline cartilage that has no blood supply of its own.

There is now decades of research confirming that this hyaline cartilage is totally dependent on this fluid sloshing about in the joint. Artificially fixate this joint and within thirteen hours that cartilage begins to degenerate, called "immobilisation arthritis" - bony spurs start forming which are at the root of the symptoms of spinal stenosis. Read more about Immobilisation Arthritis ....

Symptoms of cervical stenosis

Symptoms of cervical stenosis involve weakness, numbness, alteration of gait and sometimes even bladder and bowel changes.

So, what are the symptoms of spinal stenosis? Potentially, one or more of the following may occur:

  1. An area of skin which becomes numb or very sensitive. (Many other conditions can cause this, such as shingles. CHIROPRACTIC SHINGLES ...

  2. An electric shooting pain down the back, and possibly into the limbs, on flexion of the head and neck. (called Lhermitte's sign.)
  3. Muscular weakness
  4. Altered manner of walking, "gait". In effect, loss of coordination.
  5. Altered bladder or bowel function.

In particular, if any of these symptoms are present, and there is severe associated stiffness of the neck, then then it is reasonable to assume, until proved otherwise, that these are the symptoms of cervical stenosis.

Chiropractic help

Chiropractic is in the first instance directed as causes rather than the tingling in your arms and legs.

However, with the symptoms of cervical stenosis, that cause was something that happened most likely thirty or more years ago.

Undoubtedly the emphasis in chiropractic care of the symptoms of cervical stenosis, is prevention. Stop it happening long before the neck becomes so degenerate. Gentle adjustments and mobilisation of protesting joints in the younger person, to prevent immobilisation arthritis makes a good deal more sense than the operative care that may become necessary once cervical spinal stenosis becomes entrenched.

So is it important for all of us to be on an anti inflammatory diet all of our lives; in part that means plenty of omega 3 fats from fish, freshly ground flax seed and genuine free range eggs if you can find them.

Chiropractic help treatment of the cervical facet syndrome, certainly a precursor to neck stenosis, is not painful, relatively safe and a huge cost saving exercise. Once complete with the treatment and rehab phase, Chiropractic care of an average patient with potential cervical spinal stenosis might involve 6 to 10 treatments per year.

Once firmly established, how does chiropractic manage the symptoms of cervical stenosis? Carefully and gently. Each chiropractor will decide on the merits and demerits of manipulation, above and below the lesion, even at the lesion, mobilisation, traction, exercise.

Every chiropractor on a daily basis will be treating patients with cervical stenosis, mostly with severe stiffness of the neck, and occasional radiating symptoms. It's only when these symptoms of cervical stenosis become more severe, involve weakness of muscles, postural imbalance and bladder or bowel symptoms that surgical intervention should be considered.

  • Read more about Chiropractic treatment of the Cervical facet syndrome ...
  • How safe is Chiropractic ...?


Interaction and cooperation of your Chiropractor, Medical doctor and the surgeon are obviously vital and ultimately it's the patient's right and responsibility to choose their treatment. None are without risks.

Medical and Chiropractic practice continues to be a learning experience.

The pronator teres syndrome also causes severe pain radiating down lower arm to fingers but is far more treatable; it's essentially a repetitive strain injury involving the forearm.

Ten second step test

Ten second step test is a simple procedure to check if the symptoms of cervical stenosis in the lower limbs could be coming from your neck.

Because cervical myelopathy and conditions such as Basilar Invagination can affect the legs, this little test has been devised. How many times can you raise your legs...?


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Interesting challenges of the day

1. Mr S is a 76 year old man with neck pain of some 9 months duration. Luckily, most of the discomfort is upper cervical which is only rarely arthritic; his lower cervical spine is a degenerative mess that I've left alone. After seven treatments his pain and stiffness is 50 percent better, and he's happy in the circumstances. He can sleep through the night now and that makes a huge difference.

2. Mr P is 32 year old man with very severe lower back pain radiating to the big toe which is 30 percent numb. He had an episode three weeks ago, took anti inflammatories and was soon better as is typical of the medial disc herniation. But before it healed, after a trivia it came roaring back, much worse. The characteristic crossed sign was evident; sitting in a chair, straightening the right leg provoked severe left back pain and tingling in the leg. He's doing well.

3. Severe lower back pain is scary; just ask Mrs P. Just watching her get out of the car I she was in trouble; she had a slipped disc at L4 making her lean towards the opposite side; luckily she had no pain in the leg. Despite family pressure that this was far too severe for a chiropractor, she persevered. Within five days she was standing upright, and after two weeks almost painfree. 

Despite a hectic job, she wisely took my advice and stayed home for what I call exercising bed rest.

4. Mr S has had lower back, groin and back of thigh and calf pain for fourth months.

He has a pincer deformity in the hip causing the stabs in the groin, and a degenerative facet causing the sciatica. Both are responding well to chiropractic and he's well pleased; sixty five percent better after three treatments.

5. Mr T is a wise man; he's taken a warning TIA seriously and has lost 15 pounds, and has at least as much again to lose. A change to a low starch diet and half hour daily walk has made the difference; but the walking is making his foot and back miserable. The expensive orthotic is hopeless; luckily his hips and back are fine, but he needs a simple heel lift.

6. I too have had serious lower back issues, luckily fixed by my own chiropractor; so I too have to do my exercises, take care when lifting supers full of honey, gardening and using the chainsaw. Regaining the function of your spine is just as important as the pain.

7. My own granddaughter, only 7 is hypermobile giving her pelvic, knee and ankle issues. Xrays show a mildly dysplastic hip. Years ago we would have called it growing pains. She too regularly needs chiropractic care and luckily responds well. Increased range of motion is more difficult than too stiff in my opinion. Our care is for kids too.

8. This 65 year old lady is a serious gardener; every day she is bending, lifting and digging for 2 to 3 hours a day. It regularly catches her in the sacroiliac joint, so she has a treatment once a month that sorts it out. She does her lower back exercises faithfully.

9. This 88 year old lady is an inspiration; every day she is busy in the community. With a nasty scoliosis she manages very well with a chiropractic adjustment every six weeks and exercises faithfully done.  

10. Mr X is a 71 year old retired man who wants to continue with maintenance care every six to eight weeks; he had suffered from two years of lower back pain when he first came a year ago. He has no discomfort now after 8 chiropractic treatments, but is aware that danger lurks.

11. Mrs C has been having severe headaches, and taking a lot of analgesics. It's a non complicated upper cervical facet syndrome, and she's doing well.

12. Mr D is a 38 old year man with chronic shoulder pain after a rotator cuff tear playing cricket. It responded well to treatment, but he knows he must do his exercises every day; for two years he couldn't sleep on that shoulder.

13. Mr D, a 71 year old man, has a severe ache in the shoulder and midback since working above his head. Trapped nerve tests are negative but he has advanced degenerative joints of Luschka; after just two treatments he is 50 percent better. Can we reach 90?

And so the day goes; chiropractors shouldn't be treating the elderly most medical sites state but that's so much bunkum.



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