Spinal stenosis is a common yet under diagnosed condition in adults with cerebral palsy. It refers to a narrowing or compression of the spinal canal and/or the spinal nerve root passages in the neck (cervical) sometimes resulting in injury (myelopathy). Adults with CP are 8 times more at risk for myelopathy than the general population.[1]

Spinal stenosis can cause symptoms such as:

  • Pain
  • Numbness
  • Tingling and weakness in your neck, shoulders, and extremities
  • Paralysis, if left untreated[2]

Health care providers may mistake these symptoms for aging with cerebral palsy, when in fact this is a treatable condition that makes it appear that your cerebral palsy is worsening.

Although functional decline is common in adults with cerebral palsy, it could be a sign of spinal stenosis or of another illness that your doctor can help investigate or diagnose. Do not assume all symptoms are caused by your cerebral palsy. It’s vital that new symptoms are recognized, assessed and treated promptly whenever possible since conditions such as spinal stenosis can be addressed surgically to relieve pressure and stop injury to the spinal cord.[3]

Cerebral Palsy and Spinal Stenosis: Proactively Screening

You can ask your primary care doctor to assess your spinal cord function each year. They can assess the following areas to determine if an urgent assessment or referral to a specialist may be needed:

If the person with cerebral palsy is referred for further investigation of spinal stenosis, a prompt radiology screening is often recommended after the referral.[2]

For more information, download our free cerebral palsy tool kit.

  1. Find additional information at aacdm.org resource section.
  2. The following is a blog post written by an adult with CP who experienced and was treated for spinal stenosis following an extended period of paralysis: https://www.eparent.com/exceptional-blog/the-surprise-of-cervical-spinal-stenosis/
  1. Smith, S., Gannotti, M., Hurvitz, E., Jensen, F., Krach, L., Msall, M., . . . Aravamuthan, B. (2021, February 26). Adults with Cerebral Palsy Require Ongoing Neurologic Care: A Systematic Review. Retrieved June 14, 2021, from https://europepmc.org/article/med/33550625[abstract]
  2. AACPDM. (2021, March 25). Fact sheets. Retrieved June 14, 2021, from https://www.aacpdm.org/publications/fact-sheets
  3. Bjerke, MD, B. (2017, July 10). Cervical stenosis With myelopathy. Retrieved June 14, 2021, from https://www.spine-health.com/conditions/spinal-stenosis/cervical-stenosis-myelopathy