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Spinal Stenosis: Definition, Symptoms, and Treatment 2017-04-20T22:43:18+00:00

Spinal Stenosis: Definition, Symptoms, and Treatment

Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the open spaces within your spine, specifically narrowing of the canal through which the spinal cord passes or of the IVFs (intervertebral foramina), the small holes through which the spinal nerve roots exit the spine.  When crowded by stenosis, pressure is sometimes put on the cord or nerve roots, affecting the organs and tissues that receive stimulation from those nerves.  Spinal stenosis occurs most often in the lower back (lumbar stenosis) and the neck (cervical stenosis).

While it may not cause signs or symptoms in some people, other people may experience pain, tingling, numbness, muscle weakness, problems with bladder or bowel function, and radiating symptoms down the legs or arms.

Spinal stenosis is most commonly caused by DJD (degenerative joint disease), the wear-and-tear changes in the spine. In severe cases, doctors may recommend surgery to create additional space for the spinal cord or spinal nerve roots.

Some people are born with this condition, but most people with stenosis develop it over time or after a trauma. For example, a disc injury of bulging or herniation can invade the spinal canal, making it stenotic.   As part of the aging process, most people with stenosis will at some time notice radiating symptoms down the arms or legs, secondary to the compression of the nerves or spinal cord.

Lumbar Stenosis

In lumbar stenosis, the spinal nerve roots in the lower back become pinched, and this produces radiculopathy: numbness, tingling or weakness that radiates from the low back into the buttocks and legs.  If the symptoms are felt in the feet, it’s normally the nerve root from the area of the bottom lumbar vertebra that is compressed.

Lumbar spinal stenosis often mimics symptoms of vascular insufficiency, aka compromised blood flow. Both conditions can cause claudication, ie. leg pain while walking.  When there is normal blood flow to the legs, and there is confirmation of this condition on examinations, the symptoms are then called neurogenic claudication. In typical cases, people with it will describe leg pain or weakness when walking, but sitting generally brings relief. Many will also describe some relief while walking in a bent-forward posture.

Cervical Stenosis

When this condition manifests itself in the neck it is called cervical spinal stenosis. This condition puts people at risk of compression of the spinal cord, which is usually a serious condition.  Possible symptoms of cord compression are marked weakness and paralysis. With cervical stenosis, those who develop signs of spinal cord compression (myelopathy) may need surgical intervention.

Thoracic stenosis can also occur but is quite rare. The thoracic part of the spine lies in the middle/upper portion of the back, and consists of the vertebrae that are attached to the ribs. This stability of the thoracic spine helps to protect it from injuries that promote stenosis.

Spinal Stenosis and the Aging Spine

It is most commonly discovered in people over age 50.  Being a gradual process, the subtle changes of spinal stenosis often result in a decrease in physical activity and a tendency toward a forward flexed posture.

People with this condition normally manage it well with pain medication, exercise and other types of physical therapy which enhance posture, mobility and muscle strength.

Spinal Stenosis

Spinal Stenosis: Definition, Symptoms, and Treatment

Spinal Stenosis

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