What Is Spinal Stenosis?
Spinal stenosis is a condition where the spinal canal narrows, which can lead to pain and numbness in the arms, legs and back.
A herniated disc or degenerative changes in the spine can cause a narrowing of the spinal canal. Bone spurs and other bone growths can also compress the spinal cord.
Spinal stenosis is often diagnosed when someone has leg pain that does not go away with rest, numbness or tingling in their legs and feet, weakness in their legs, or bowel problems.
Signs and Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis
Spinal stenosis is a common condition that can cause pain, numbness and tingling in the back, neck and arms.
The symptoms of spinal stenosis can be variable. Some people may experience only intermittent discomfort while others may experience chronic pain. Typical signs and symptoms of spinal stenosis include:
- Neck, arm and back pain
- Weakness in one arm or leg
- Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
- Difficulty walking upstairs
- Difficulty bending over to tie shoes
What Causes Spinal Stenosis?
Spinal stenosis is typically caused by one or more of the following factors:
- Spinal osteoarthritis. When the smooth cartilage covering the facet joints (which connect the backs of adjacent vertebrae) wears away, bones rub against each other, causing osteophytes or bone spurs to form. The resultant inflammation and osteophyte growth may cause the foramina to constrict. (Osteoarthritis causes swelling of the knuckles in the hand due to a similar mechanism.)
- Degenerative disc disease. The intervertebral foramina narrow as the discs lose moisture and begin to flatten. A bulging disc can also push into the spinal canal. Disc degeneration can also increase the pressure on the facet joints, speeding up their degeneration.
- Ligament thickening or buckling. Ligaments in the spinal canal can ossify (harden and become bony tissue) and intrude on the spinal cord or neighboring spinal nerves. As spinal degeneration proceeds, some ligaments may become more prone to buckling into the spinal canal.
- Other conditions, such as spinal deformities or cyst growths, may also lead to spinal stenosis.
How is Spinal Stenosis Diagnosed?
The diagnosis of spinal stenosis is usually performed by a neurologist or orthopedic spine specialist.
Some of the common tests that are used to diagnose spinal stenosis include X-rays, MRI, CT scan or myelography.
There is no single test that can be used to diagnose spinal stenosis. Instead, doctors use a combination of tests and their expertise in the field to make a diagnosis for the patient.
Treatment Options for Spinal Stenosis
Spinal stenosis is a condition that is caused by the narrowing of the spinal canal. The narrowing can lead to pressure on the spinal cord, which can cause numbness, pain and weakness.
There are many treatment options available for spinal stenosis. Medication is a common option because it helps with pain relief and inflammation management. Surgery is another option because it may help to alleviate symptoms if they are severe enough. Physical therapy may also be an option for those who want to avoid surgery or have already had it done but still have lingering symptoms from their condition.