Spinal Stenosis

Spinal Stenosis

What is spinal stenosis?

Spinal stenosis is a condition in which the spinal canal or tunnel that houses the neural elements (neurons) that travel down the spine is narrowed. Central narrowing refers to the main channel, while foraminal narrowing refers to each nerve root's "exit ramp." The condition can affect the cervical (neck) or lumbar spine (lower back).

Signs and symptoms of spinal stenosis

Spinal stenosis occurs when the spinal canal constricts, putting pressure on the nerves. Pressure on the nerves causes discomfort, numbness, or weakness in the extremities. Cervical (neck) stenosis can cause pain in the arms, legs, and balance. Lumbar (low back) stenosis most frequently affects the buttocks and legs, making it painful to walk and stand.

Spinal stenosis affects your neck or lower back, although it might also affect other areas of the spine. Not everyone experiences symptoms, but they are generally similar to those listed above if you do.

More specific symptoms include:

  • Sciatica: the sensation of shooting pains that down your leg and start as an ache in the lower back or buttocks.
  • Foot drop: You may "slap" your foot on the ground caused by painful leg weakness.
  • You may have a difficult time standing or walking.
  • In extreme cases of spinal stenosis, some patients lose control of their bladder or bowel due to the weakened nerves to the bladder or bowel.
  • An aching sensation in the lower back, which shoots out from your spine into your arms and legs.
  • Spinal stenosis pressing on the root of your spinal nerves can cause numbness, tingling, or weakness in your arms and legs.
  • If your spinal cord is squeezed by spinal stenosis, you may experience numbness, tingling, or loss of strength in your arms and legs. 
  • It can also affect other parts of your body, such as your bladder and bowel.
  • If your spinal stenosis squeezes the bottom portion of your spinal cord, you may lose feeling in your pelvic region or suffer from incontinence. If you don't treat it, this might result in severe nerve damage. This is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment.

If you are experiencing a loss of bladder or bowel control, call your doctor immediately.

What causes spinal stenosis?

Stenosis happens when the spinal discs become inflamed and collapse, causing a narrowing or blockage in one of the spaces between them ( stenosis ). In rare cases, it might be caused by a tumor, infection, or congenital abnormality (present at birth).

Stenosis can be hereditary or develop later in life. It may also be caused by arthritic changes in the facet joints and disc narrowing between the spine bones, which cause excessive ligament development. Scoliosis or a curved spine can also produce it. One vertebra slipping on the next, or one vertebra being scoliotic or curved, can all cause spinal stenosis.

Stenosis is most common among individuals in their 50s and older who have arthritic changes to the spine. Developmental or hereditary stenosis affects people in their late teens or twenties and above.

Treatment Options for spinal stenosis

Anti-inflammatory medications and activity modification can treat the early symptoms of stenosis. When symptoms become more severe, epidural steroid injections might be tried. Spinal decompression surgery may be required if none of these treatments work. Depending on the cause of the stenosis and where it is, spinal fusion surgery may also be required.

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