“At Southwest Scoliosis and Spine Institute, we see adults and children in pain. Consequently, we use our expertise and experience to make a difference in improving their lives.”
Richard Hostin, MD
Spinal stenosis, or narrowing of the gaps in your spine, can compress your spinal cord and nerve roots as they depart each vertebra. A typical reason is aging-related changes in the spine. Back and neck discomfort, as well as numbness, tingling, and weakness in the arms and legs, are all possible symptoms. Self-care, physical therapy, medicines, injections, and surgery are among of the options for treatment.
What is spinal stenosis?
Doctors refer to a narrowing of one or more places in your spine as spinal stenosis. The amount of room available for your spinal cord and nerves that branch off your spinal cord becomes reduced when there is less space within your spine. The causes of back pain link directly to inflamed, compressed, or pinched nerves in the spinal cord. In most cases, spinal stenosis develops gradually over time. Osteoarthritis, or “wear-and-tear” changes in your spine that occur naturally as you age, are the most prevalent causes. As a result, even if certain problems exist on X-rays or other imaging tests conducted for another health reason, you may not notice any symptoms for a long time. You may get pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness in your neck, back, arms, legs, hands, or feet, depending on the location and severity of your spinal stenosis.
Where does spinal stenosis occur?
Spinal stenosis can affect any part of the spine, however it most usually affects two areas:
- Lower back (lumbar canal stenosis).
- Neck (cervical spinal stenosis).
What is lumbar canal stenosis?
The narrowing of the spinal canal or the tunnels via which nerves and other tissues connect with it refers to lumbar canal stenosis. Narrowing of the spinal canal usually occurs by aging-related changes that reduce the canal’s size, such as the misalignment of one of the vertebrae. The nerve root of the spinal cord usually gets pinched when the spinal canal or side canals that protect the nerves narrow. As the canal’s diameter narrows, the nerves get progressively inflamed. The legs, groin, hips, buttocks, and lower back can all be affected by lumbar canal stenosis, which causes discomfort, numbness, and weakness. Walking or standing causes symptoms to increase, whereas laying down, sitting, or leaning forward causes symptoms to improve.
Who Gets Spinal Stenosis?
Spinal stenosis can affect anybody, although it occurs most frequently in people over 50. This condition can also affect young persons who were born with a small spinal canal. Spinal stenosis causes link to a variety of disorders affecting the spine, such as scoliosis or damage to the spine.
What Causes Spinal Stenosis?
There are several reasons of spinal stenosis. What they all have in common is that they alter the shape of your spine, limiting the area surrounding your spinal cord and nerve roots that escape through it. Compression or pinching of the spinal cord and/or nerve roots produces symptoms such as low back pain and sciatica. The following are some of the causes of spinal stenosis:
Bone overgrowth/arthritic spurs:
Osteoarthritis is a “wear and tear” disease that causes cartilage in your joints, including your spine, to break down. The protective coating for joints is cartilage. The bones start to rub against one other when cartilage goes down. Your body reacts by producing more bone. Overgrowth of bone, or bone spurs, is a typical occurrence. Bone spurs on the vertebrae expand into the spinal canal, narrowing it and squeezing nerves. Paget’s disease of the bone can lead to an overgrowth of bone in the spine, squeezing nerves.
Bulging disks/herniated disk:
A flat, spherical cushioning pad (vertebral disc) sits between each vertebra and works as a stress absorber along the spine. The gel-like interior of these discs breaks through a weak or torn outer layer due to age-related drying out and flattening of vertebral discs, as well as breaking in the outside border of the discs. The nerves around the disc are then compressed by the bulging disc.
Ligaments are the fiber bands that connect the vertebrae of the spine. Ligaments can enlarge and protrude into the spinal canal space as a result of arthritis.
Spinal fractures and injuries:
Broken or dislocated bones, as well as inflammation caused by injury to the spine, can limit the canal space and put pressure on spinal nerves.
Spinal cord cysts or tumors:
Growths within the spinal cord or between the spinal cord and vertebrae can restrict the space between the vertebrae, putting pressure on the spinal cord and its nerves.
Congenital spinal stenosis:
A person who is born with a tiny spinal canal is said to have this ailment. Scoliosis is another congenital spinal condition that can cause spinal stenosis (an abnormally shaped spine).
What are the symptoms of spinal stenosis?
When spinal stenosis first appears, you may or may not have symptoms. The narrowing of the spinal canal is generally a gradual and progressive process that becomes worse over time. Although spinal stenosis can occur anywhere along the spinal column, it is most commonly found in the lower back (the most frequent location) and neck. Symptoms differ from person to person and might appear and disappear at any time. The following are some of the signs and symptoms of lumbar spinal stenosis:
- Lower back pain is a common ailment. Pain can range from a subtle aching or discomfort to an electric or searing feeling. Pain is a normal part of life that comes and goes.
- This is discomfort that starts in your buttocks and spreads down your leg, maybe into your foot.
- Leg cramps in one or both legs due to a heavy feeling in the legs.
- The buttocks, leg, or foot are numb or tingling.
- Leg or foot sluggishness (as the stenosis worsens).
- Standing for lengthy periods of time, walking, or walking downhill causes pain.
- When leaning, bending forward slightly, walking uphill, or sitting, the pain subsides.
- The inability to control one’s urine or bowels (in severe cases).
Symptoms of neck (cervical) spinal stenosis include:
- Neck pain.
- Arm, hand, leg, or foot numbness or tingling
- Weakness or clumsiness in the arm, hand, leg, or foot
- Balance issues.
- Hand loss, such as difficulty writing or buttoning shirts
- The inability to control one’s urine or bowels (in severe cases).
- The following are some of the signs and symptoms of thoracic (abdominal) spinal stenosis:
- At or below the level of the abdomen, pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness may exist.
- Balance issues.
Is it possible for spinal stenosis to result in permanent paralysis?
While spinal constriction might cause discomfort, it typically does not result in paralysis. Permanent numbness and/or paralysis can occur if a spinal nerve or the spinal cord is crushed for an extended length of time. This is why, if you have numbness or weakness in your arms or legs, you should contact your doctor as soon as possible.
How is spinal stenosis diagnosed?
A physical exam will take place after your medical history is reviewed and questions about your symptoms are answered. During your physical exam, your healthcare provider may feel your spine and push on different regions to see whether it causes discomfort. Your doctor may probably ask you to bend in different directions to examine whether different postures of your spine cause pain or other symptoms. Your balance, mobility, and walking patterns, as well as your arm and leg strength, will be evaluated by your physician. Imaging tests will take place on your spine to establish the precise location, nature, and degree of the disease. Imaging investigations may involve the following:
- X-rays: X-rays emit a limited quantity of radiation and can reveal changes in bone structure such as disc height reduction and the formation of bone spurs that narrow the spine’s space.
- MRI: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) creates cross-sectional pictures of the spine using radio waves and a strong magnet. The nerves, discs, spinal cord, and the presence of any malignancies are all seen in exquisite clarity on MRI images.
- CT or CT myelogram: A computed tomography (CT) scan uses a series of X-rays to produce cross-sectional pictures of the spine. In a CT myelogram, a contrast dye is utilized to assist reveal the spinal cord and nerves more clearly.
What are the treatments for spinal stenosis?
Treatment options for stenosis are determined by the cause of your symptoms, the location of the issue, and the severity of your symptoms. If your symptoms are minor, your doctor may advise you to try some self-care methods first. If they don’t help and your symptoms continue to worsen, your doctor may suggest physical therapy, medication, and eventually surgery.
Preparing for Spinal Stenosis Surgery?
To expedite your recovery after spine surgery, quit smoking if you smoke and exercise on a regular basis (after consulting with your healthcare professional first). Inquire with your doctor whether you should stop taking any non-essential drugs, vitamins, or herbal therapies that may interact with anesthesia. Also, ask your healthcare staff any questions or express any concerns you may have.
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If you or your loved one is suffering from back pain from a spinal condition, there is hope. We can help. Call Southwest Scoliosis and Spine Institute at 214-556-0555 to make an appointment today.