Spinal stenosis is a painful narrowing of the canal that contains the spinal cord and nerves.
When this condition occurs in the lower back, it is called lumbar stenosis and results in a compression of the nerve roots, which can lead to low back pain and pain and cramping in the legs. With cervical stenosis, pressure on the spinal cord in the neck area causes pain, tingling, numbness and weakness in the back and legs.
Many stenosis patients suffer frequent falls and have problems with walking and balance. This disorder affects men and women equally, most over the age of 50.
Causes of Spinal Stenosis
Though some people may be born with a smaller-than-normal spinal canal, this disorder is most often caused by other factors.
In many cases, stenosis happens as a result of aging. Over time, the ligaments that hold the spine together can grow thicker and bulge into the spinal canal. Degeneration can also occur in the discs that cushion the vertebrae, causing pressure on the spinal cord or nerves.
Osteoarthritis also may be a factor, as it can lead to the formation of bone spurs in the spinal canal. For some patients, tumors growing within the spine or trauma to the back may be the cause of stenosis.
Spinal Stenosis Diagnosis
Taking a full medical history and performing a physical examination are the first steps in diagnosing this disorder.
Symptoms can resemble those of other conditions, so imaging studies may be necessary as well to determine if stenosis is present. The doctor may order an X-ray and MRI to check for damage to the bones, nerves, muscles and ligaments in the spine.
In some cases, a CT myelogram may be recommended. This procedure uses X-rays along with a special dye to detect bone spurs, tumors and herniated discs that may be causing the stenosis.
Treatments for Spinal Stenosis
If your symptoms are not severe, the doctor may recommend conservative treatment initially.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen, or analgesics like acetaminophen, may be recommended to relieve pain and swelling. Corticosteroid injections may be used to treat pain that radiates down the leg and to reduce inflammation.
In some cases, nerve block injections or codeine-related drugs may be prescribed to relieve pain. Many patients also benefit from specific exercises or physical therapy.
If conservative treatments are not effective in relieving symptoms of this disorder, the doctor may recommend surgical treatment. Surgery can relieve the compression on the spinal cord or nerves by removing the obstructions in the spinal canal.
Early diagnosis and treatment may help prevent this debilitating disorder from worsening. If you are experiencing symptoms that may indicate the development of spinal stenosis, contact us to schedule a medical evaluation.
This article reviewed by Travis McDonald, MD.