Spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the spaces in your spine that can put pressure on your spinal cord and the nerves that travel through your spine. The spine narrows in one or more of these three parts: the space at the center of the spine, the canals where nerves branch out from the spine, and the space between the vertebrae. Spinal stenosis can occur anywhere along the spine but most commonly in the lumbar and cervical area (low back and neck). Cervical spinal stenosis is the more dangerous of the two due to the fact that it involves the compression of the spinal cord, whereas lumbar spinal stenosis involves compression of the cauda equina, a bundle of spinal nerves and spinal nerve roots. While some people experience no symptoms or signs, others experience pain, numbness, muscle weakness, and other problems.
Who is affected?
- Men and women over the age of 50
- People whose activities include exessive bending, twisting, and lifting
- Overweight persons are more prone to develop wear and tear in their backs, resulting in spur formation and spinal stenosis
- Young people who develop spinal stenosis are typically genetically predisposed and have congenital stenosis, which is an anatomic narrowing in their spinal canal. This puts them at a higher risk of developing symptomatic spinal stenosis
Spinal Cord Compression Symptoms
- Usually occurs in the cervical spine
- Neck pain radiating to the upper extremities
- Numbness and tingling in the upper extremities
- Weakness and paralysis in the upper or lower extremities
- Gate or balance problems
Cauda Equina Compression Symptoms
- Low back pain
- Shooting pain down the leg or sciatica
- Weakness in the lower extremity
- Pain going down the leg
- Foot drop
- Rarely loss of bowel or bladder control, which makes it an emergency
There are several possible causes of spinal stenosis. Arthritis is the most common, followed by wear and tear in the spine due to aging. Spinal surgeries, bone spurs, and herniated discs are also common causes. Paget’s Disease is a bone disease affecting adults that can cause spinal stenosis. Tumors, thickened ligaments, and calcium deposits on the ligaments that run along the spine are also conditions that can cause spinal stenosis.
There are several treatment options for spinal stenosis, depending on the severity. Medications for pain relief, such as NSAIDs, muscle relaxants, and steroid dose packs, as well as physical therapy, steroid injections, and walkers or canes can be used for patients not requiring surgery. The Spine and Joint Center of New Mexico proudly offers both traditional and minimally invasive options for patients requiring surgery.