One of the most dangerous medical conditions, cervical spinal stenosis can lead to instant death and paralysis from spinal cord injury (SCI). Once the canal stenosis becomes severe as seen on the below MRI scan, even a minor whiplash injury or a fall from standing could immobilize a person from the neck down.
The gray structure seen in the center of this image is the spinal cord. As a part of the Central Nervous System, the spinal cord is as soft and vulnerable as the brain. It travels from the brain down the center of the spine to the lumbar area, where it terminates in nerve bundles collectively known as the cauda equina. The lumbar nerves are somewhat more durable and therefore may recover after lower back injury or lumbar canal stenosis. Compression of the cord from cervical spinal stenosis affects the neck area where the spinal cord is located. The spinal cord, once severed, does not have sufficient potential to regenerate in humans. Spinal cord injury research is ongoing to find a cure for paralysis. A great push for medical research in the arena of spinal cord injury came from actor Christopher Reeve who suffered a tragic equestrian accident.
In young people and athletes, high impact injuries can cause spinal fracture and cord injury. Similarly severe injuries are frequently seen in the elderly with high grade cervical spinal stenosis. In that age group, even minor accidents may cause irreparable spinal cord injury. Therefore, timely decompression of high grade spinal canal stenosis is often recommended.