Cervical spinal stenosis is a condition that most often occurs in individuals over the age of 50 that can result in debilitating symptoms if not treated properly.
In this article we’ll outline the details of cervical spinal stenosis and provide you with some tips to treat your cervical spinal stenosis symptoms from the comfort of your own home.
What is Cervical Spinal Stenosis?
Cervical spinal stenosis refers to a narrowing of the spinal canal in the cervical spine (neck). The narrowing of the spinal canal can lead to compression of the spinal cord and associated blood vessels – this can lead to painful symptoms.
Cervical stenosis can be either congenital (genetic), or more often acquired from progressive disk degeneration as people age (Normal wear and tear of the discs).
Cervical stenosis is classified by location:
Involves the spinal cord.
Involves the nerve roots.
Symptoms of Cervical Stenosis
In some cases, you may have evidence of cervical spinal stenosis on imaging tests such as a CT or MRI, but have no symptoms. In other cases, your symptoms will develop slowly and gradually get worse over time.
Symptoms may include:
- Numbness, tingling, and/or muscle weakness.
- Radiating pain into arms, fingers, shoulders (radiculopathy).
- Difficulty with fine motor skills of the hands.
- Difficulty with walking.
- Neck pain.
- Generalized electric shock and pain in the arms and trunk, especially when the head is bent forward (L’hermitte sign).
- Bladder or bowel issues (i.e. incontinence and urinary urgency).
Causes of Cervical Stenosis
- Herniated or Bulging discs.
- Localized infection (abscess).
- Osteophytes (bony spurs that are often associated with osteoarthritis).
- Inflammation of spinal ligaments.
- Cancer 
- Spondylolisthesis (shifting of one vertebrae on top of another).
- Systemic bone disease resulting in bone overgrowth in the spine (i.e. Paget’s disease).
- Spinal injuries resulting from car accidents or other trauma, such as fractures.
How to Treat Cervical Stenosis from Home
One of the first things that you can try at home to relieve your symptoms is applying ice to the area. Ice packs can be applied to the affected area for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Ice helps to reduce inflammation initially.
Another option is over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications. These medications may be used to help control inflammation and relieve pain.
Finally, doing certain stretching, mobility and strengthening exercises for the neck and upper back can help control your symptoms.
4 Cervical Stenosis Exercises
The exercises below can help to improve your posture and increase the flexibility and strength of your upper back and neck, thereby helping to manage your cervical stenosis symptoms.
Exercise #1: Chin Tucks
This exercise will activate and strengthen your deep cervical muscles (front of the neck muscles).
- Place 2 fingers at the bottom of your chin.
- Gently tuck your chin in and retract your head backwards. At the same time, use your fingers to keep the chin tucked in the entire time.
- Hold the end position for 3 to 5 seconds.
- Relax your neck for a moment (Let the neck come fwd).
- Aim for 2 to 3 sets of 10 repetitions.
** You should feel like the back of your neck is lengthening or “pulling up”, and there will be packing in front of your neck.
#2. Fwd Neck Stretch
This will stretch the back of your neck muscles including the Suboccipital muscles.
How to Do It:
- First, tuck your chin in using 2 fingers of one hand.
- Place your other hand on the back of your head and apply a gentle force down as you pull
your head towards your chest.
- When you feel a stretch at the back of your neck, hold the position for 20 to 30 seconds.
- Repeat this stretch 3 times.
** Keep your chin tucked as you do this stretch.
#3. Median Nerve Slider
This exercise will help to relieve tension on the nerves coming out of the neck as they travel down your arm. Be careful, if this exercise causes any pain, stop doing it.
How to Do It:
- Begin in upright position with shoulders slightly back and head facing forward.
- Using the arm in which you are having symptoms, bring your arm out to the side and the palm of your hand towards your head, similar to the “flex” position for body builders.
- With the opposite arm, place it on top of your other shoulder.
- Slowly straighten your elbow and extend your wrist and fingers (facing up). You should feel a stretch along the inside of your arm.
- While straightening (the “flexed”) elbow, slowly bring your ear towards your other shoulder (Opposite to the arm that is straightening) .
- Continue to straighten your elbow as far as comfortable. If you begin to feel pain or numbness, return back to the start position and only perform the exercise in a comfortable range.
- Repeat on the other side if you are having symptoms in both arms
- Repeat 10-20x, depending on your symptoms.
#4: Doorway Stretch
This is a good stretch to help open up the chest area and upper back, to improve your posture.
How to do it:
- Position your elbows and hands in line with a door frame.
- Step through the door slowly, until you feel a stretch.
- Hold this end position for 20 to 30 seconds before returning to the starting position.
- Repeat this stretch 2-3 times.
While many cases of mild cervical spinal stenosis can be managed with conservative treatment options including ice, heat, NSAID’s, and stretching/strengthening, in some cases symptoms will continue to worsen. If you do not notice a rapid improvement in symptoms with home care, it’s important to seek medical advice to determine if you need surgery to improve your condition.
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 Zeller J. Spinal stenosis. JAMA. 2008;299(8):980. doi:10.1001/jama.299.8.980
 Todd A. Cervical spine: degenerative conditions. Curr Rev Musculoskelet Med. 2011;4(4):168-174. doi:10.1007/s12178-011-9099-2
 Cohen S. Epidemiology, diagnosis, and treatment of neck pain. Mayo Clin Proc. 2015;90(2):284-299. doi:10.1016/j.mayocp.2014.09.008
 Meyer F, Börm W, Thomé C. Degenerative cervical spinal stenosis – current strategies in diagnosis and treatment. Deutsches Aerzteblatt Online. 2008. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2008.0366
Licensed chiropractor, DC (Owner of Forme Clinic, Stoney Creek, ON, L8G 1B9)
Dr. Shaina McQuilkie graduated from Brock University in 2004 with a Bachelor of Kinesiology (Honours). She then attended D’Youville College, in Buffalo, New York and obtained her Doctorate of Chiropractic Degree in 2008. After graduating, Dr. McQuilkie practiced in a multi-disciplinary healthcare facility based in Hamilton, Ontario gaining experience treating a variety of musculoskeletal injuries.
My drs have not suggested anything to improve my condition except steroid injections and other pain meds. I also have degenerate disc disease and 3 herniated discs. This is all in my c5-c7 vertebrae. Are these appropriate for me? What about swimming aerobics or yoga? Thank you for your response and this helpful article!
Leon Turetsky (NASM-CPT, NASM-CES) says
Hi Ambre, Please refer to the Cervical herniated disc article instead here: https://backintelligence.com/cervical-herniated-disc-exercises/
In terms of will it help. We always say to try diff stretches and see if it reduces pain, if it does then it’s working, but if it produces more pain, then those exercises aren’t good for you.
Thank you so much for this article, my doctor as well as my physical therapist have recommended many of the same exercises that you have shown on this page.
Leon Turetsky (NASM-CPT, NASM-CES) says
Hi Jay, awesome, glad you like it.