Spinal stenosis is a common condition that involves a narrowing in one or more areas of the spine as a result of injury or deterioration to the discs, joints or bones within the spinal canal.
While some patients may be born with spinal stenosis, most cases develop later in life as a result of the degenerative changes that occur in the spine over time. Osteoarthritis is the main cause of spinal stenosis, as it causes the cartilage in the area to deteriorate and eventually results in the bones rubbing against each other and forming growths called bone spurs. These bone spurs may narrow the spinal canal when they form the facet joints. Spinal stenosis can also be caused by a herniated disc, ligament changes or spinal tumors.
Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis
Patients with spinal stenosis may experience cramping, pain and numbness in the legs, back, neck, shoulders or arms, depending on which part of the spine is affected. A loss of sensation, loss of balance and bladder malfunctioning may also occur in some patients.
Some patients may not experience any symptoms from this condition. It is only when the narrowed area of the spine compresses the spinal cord or nerves that symptoms arise.
Diagnosing Spinal Stenosis
Spinal stenosis is often difficult to diagnose because its symptoms can come and go and may resemble the symptoms of many other conditions. A diagnosis of spinal stenosis is often achieved after ruling out other conditions after performing imaging exams such as a spinal X-ray, MRI, CT scan, bone scan and others. Your doctor will also ask you several questions about your symptoms and overall health to correctly diagnose your condition and provide an adequate treatment solution.
Most cases of spinal stenosis can be effectively treated through conservative methods such as physical therapy, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, rest and a back brace. These treatments are usually administered for at least three months for the spine to heal properly and allow for full function. The specific treatment for your individual condition may vary.
For more severe cases of spinal stenosis, surgery may be required to relieve pressure on the spinal cord while also maintaining the integrity of the site. This may be achieved through procedures such as a decompressive laminectomy, laminotomy or fusion that relieve pressure and join the damaged bone back to its normal state.