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Arm Asleep
March 2002

Q. I have spinal stenosis in C-5 and have very few symptoms, except for a little arm pain and my arm tends to fall asleep. I want to know how long can I continue to allow my arm to fall asleep before it becomes irreversible or seriously damaged? I plan on having surgery soon. I would like to wait a few months before having the surgery, however, if my arm falling asleep causes me to lose my arm function, I will have the surgery sooner. Is there a point when I should decide to go in for surgery earlier?

A. Spinal stenosis refers to a narrowing of the opening between two adjacent vertebrae in the spine. This can be due to injury, the aging process, and herditary factors. The narrowing causes pressure on the nerves as you describe, with symptoms that can include pain, weakness, numbness, and tingling along the location of the nerve. These symptoms usually cause people to seek medical attention, leading to diagnostic tests including x-rays, MRI, and nerve conduction studies. If the symptoms are severe, or are not responding to measures such as medication and physical therapy, surgery is considered to relieve the pressure. You should discuss the timing of the surgery with your treating physician.

http://www.familydoctor.org/handouts/256.html

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000441.htm

http://www.neurosurgery.org/health/patient/detail.asp?DisorderID=36

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