Cervical spinal stenosis and myelopathy treatment

Ohio State Spine Care offers multiple options for the treatment of cervical spinal stenosis.

Your spine, or backbone, protects your spinal cord and nerves, and allows you to stand and bend. Cervical spinal stenosis is the narrowing in your upper spine due to wear and tear. The narrowing in the neck area puts pressure on your nerves and spinal cord and can cause pain and disability.

Cervical spinal stenosis can lead to myelopathy, damage resulting from the spinal cord being compressed due to narrowing of ligaments, bones and discs surrounding the spinal cord.

What is spinal stenosis?

Spinal stenosis occurs most often in people older than 50. Younger people with a spine injury or a narrow spinal canal also are at risk. Diseases such as arthritis and scoliosis can worsen spinal stenosis. Some people have no symptoms. Others might have symptoms that appear gradually or suddenly, especially after a fall. These symptoms may include:

  • Pain in your neck or back
  • Numbness, cramping or burning pain in your arms or legs
  • Balance problems
  • Weakness and lack of coordination in the fingers, hands, arms and legs

Doctors diagnose cervical spinal stenosis and myelopathy with a careful history, physical and neurological exams, and imaging tests. Treatments include medication, physical therapy and surgery.

Learn more about brain and spine neurological conditions at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

Diagnosing cervical spinal stenosis and myelopathy

As part of your thorough history and physical exam, we use the Modified Japanese Orthopaedic Association scale—an international standard—to assess the severity of your spinal cord damage. The scale measures extremity numbness, weakness and coordination problems; bladder and bowel problems; fine motor skills of the hands; and balance issues.

We routinely use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the cervical spine to give us high-resolution pictures of the spinal cord and surrounding tissues.

Treating cervical spinal stenosis and myelopathy

Ohio State offers treatments ranging from physical therapy to the most complex neck and spine surgeries. Our physicians, therapists and other caregivers provide you with options that increase mobility and reduce pain. Most people who come to Ohio State Spine Care don’t require surgery.

Nonsurgical treatments

One of Ohio State’s strengths is our physical therapy program, with therapists who specialize in complex, degenerative spine conditions. Following a thorough examination of posture, neck mobility, strength and flexibility, our physical therapists customize a plan for you. We take into account any impairments or functional limitations you have. Typically, you’ll work one-on-one with a therapist on pain-relieving movement strategies and on improvements in balance, strength and flexibility.

Additional nonsurgical treatments include:

  • Anti-inflammatory medications and neuropathic (nerve injury) pain medications for symptoms of burning, tingling and numbness
  • Education on neck care and recommendations for specific needs (such as job demands, recreational activities, home setup)
  • Real-time ultrasound imaging (RUSI) of movement in the spine area to retrain the deep stabilizing musculature of your spine (a highly researched, evidence-based intervention)
  • Training to restore balance and prevent falls
  • Weight loss guidance, emphasizing healthier eating and exercise to ease pressure on the spine
  • Pilates, yoga and aquatic therapy to strengthen back muscles

Acupuncture (provided at Ohio State Spine Care) or dry needling for pain control through Ohio State’s Center for Integrative Medicine.

Surgical treatments

You may need surgery if you have moderate to severe cervical spinal stenosis with myelopathy. Surgery can prevent further spinal cord damage and perhaps allow the spinal cord to recover over time, with the aid of physical therapy.

We may conduct additional studies as we evaluate you for surgery:

  • Electromyography (EMG), which can detect muscle weakness due to nerve problems
  • X-rays
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

Ohio State’s spine specialists perform more than 500 complex spine surgeries a year, more than anywhere in central Ohio. We use the least invasive surgery possible to protect your spinal cord from progressive damage:

  • Decompression surgery, which can be performed from the front or back of the neck
    • Laminectomy is performed from back of the neck, removes part of the vertebra (neck bone) and relieves pressure on your spinal cord. Our surgeon may use metallic plates and screws to prevent slippage of one vertebra over another.
    • Spinal cord decompression from the front is performed by removing bone and a disc or discs and fusing vertebrae.
  • Spinal fusion surgery is sometimes used in the laminectomy procedure to fuse vertebrae and restore stability to the spinal column; for cord decompression from the front, spinal fusion and using metallic plates and screws are always part of the procedure.

Why choose Ohio State for treatment of cervical spinal stenosis and myelopathy?

Francis Farhadi, MD, PhD, explains the diagnosis of spinal stenosis and the treatment options that are available at Ohio State Spine Care.



Ohio State performs innovative research in the laboratory, as well as through clinical trials. 

Enroll in a clinical trial

Areas of focus include:

Riluzole study [Efficacy of Riluzole in Patients with Cervical Spondylotic Myelopathy Undergoing Surgical Treatment, sponsored by non-profit AO Spine]: We are the only center in Ohio — and one of approximately only 12 in North America — participating in a study of the medication riluzole for patients who are candidates for surgery for myelopathy. We are helping to determine if taking riluzole in the weeks before and after surgery protects spinal cord nerve cells. Riluzole has already been approved for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). We are evaluating the drug’s effectiveness in treating the severe symptoms of cervical stenosis, such as uncoordinated fine finger movements, gait imbalance, numbness and burning pain in the arms and legs.

Study of Stem Cell Mixture for Bone Fusion [Cellentra Viable Cell Bone Matrix (VCBM) Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion Outcomes Study (VCBM/MaxAn®)]: We are participating as a high-volume center for a randomized, blinded study to evaluate a stem cell mixture to promote fusion of bones in cervical spine surgeries.

Patient Education

Patient Education Animation Library

Learn more about spine conditions and treatments

Our Spine Providers

Additional Information

Please obtain a physician referral before scheduling with our Spine Center and request previous imaging studies (e.g., MRI, CT, X-ray) on a CD from the place where your tests were performed. Please bring to your appointment these and other test results related to your back (e.g., EMGs, bone density reports, ultrasound reports) from your doctor(s).

Preparing for your visit

Share this Page