The Difference between Cervical Stenosis and Lumbar Stenosis

Both cervical stenosis and lumbar stenosis fall under the category of spinal stenosis. A common back ailment, spinal stenosis affects up to 500,000 Americans. People of any age can develop it, but it’s more common as you age. In fact, some have nicknamed the condition Baby Boomer back

Spinal stenosis can affect different parts of your spine, but the most common areas are your neck and lower back. When your neck is affected, the condition is called cervical stenosis, and when it’s your lower back, it’s lumbar stenosis. 

At Douglas J. Abeles MD & Associates in Castro Valley, California, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Douglas J. Abeles and our expert team of providers have extensive experience treating both types of stenosis. 

Here we explain the different symptoms of and treatments for cervical and lumbar stenosis. We also share tips for preventing both conditions to keep your back healthy.

What causes spinal stenosis?

Spinal stenosis occurs as your spinal column narrows, leaving less space for your spinal cord and the nerves that branch off from it. When this occurs, your spinal cord and nerves can get irritated, compressed, or pinched, resulting in pain, irritation, and inflammation.

Wear-and-tear on your body as you age, as well as conditions that often develop in older people, such as osteoarthritis and herniated discs, are often the causes of spinal stenosis. Other causes include being born with a narrow spinal cord, a traumatic accident, and tumors.

How do cervical stenosis and lumbar stenosis differ?

The main difference between the two conditions is the areas they affect. Both conditions cause pain, weakness, and tingling. 

Cervical stenosis produces these conditions in your neck, arms, and shoulders. With lumbar stenosis, low back pain can radiate down your buttocks and legs.

Lumbar stenosis is the more common of the two conditions, but cervical stenosis has the potential to be the more severe of the two. Spinal stenosis symptoms vary from person to person, and some don’t experience any symptoms at all.

With lumbar spinal stenosis, the pain increases when standing and walking and may subside when sitting. People with lumbar stenosis may experience sciatica, which is when pain and tingling radiate from your lower back down one or both legs. 

When different nerves in your neck are compressed, it can affect those nerve functions. 

For example, in addition to pain, weakness, and tingling in your neck, shoulders, and arms, some people with cervical stenosis also experience bladder dysfunction, as well as balance and walking issues. In severe cases, it can lead to paralysis. 

Spinal stenosis treatment options

Treatment for both conditions usually starts with nonsurgical options such as physical therapy, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicine and pain relievers, and steroid injections. Your specific treatment plan depends on the underlying cause of the stenosis.

If conservative treatment options fail to provide relief from your symptoms, we may recommend surgery to provide more space in the spinal column and relieve the compression. Dr. Abeles offers both conventional and leading-edge techniques to ensure you return to an active, pain-free lifestyle as soon as possible. 

Are you experiencing back or neck pain? Contact us at the office of Douglas J. Abeles MD & Associates to make an appointment today.

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