Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis, due to the greater utilization of MRIs, has become a more common diagnosis. MRIs have allowed doctors to peer into the body like never before, revealing very detailed information. From this information doctors can obtain a more accurate assessment and arrive at a more definitive diagnosis.

What is Stenosis?

Stenosis is derived from Greek language and means “choking”. Spinal stenosis is an abnormal narrowing of the spinal canal. The spinal canal is the opening in each vertebra through which the spinal cord passes from the brain to the tailbone. Stenosis can occur in any region of the spine.

Stenosis can also be present at the spinal nerve foramen. This happens when there is narrowing of the holes where the spinal nerves exit between adjacent vertebrae on either the right or left side..

This narrowing or stenosis can occur anywhere along the spinal column, but is usually more predominant in the lower cervical (neck) and lower lumbar (low back) vertebrae. When it occurs in the neck it will compress on the spinal cord (which is more serious) or the spinal nerves. However, in the lumbar spine it can only compress the spinal nerves.

This narrowing causes a constriction or “choking” of the spinal cord, resulting in a neurological deficit. Symptoms include pain, numbness, pins and needles and loss of motor control. The location of the stenosis determines which area of the body is affected.

In people who have spinal stenosis, the spinal canal is narrowed and that causes compression on the spinal cord. This narrowing can also occur where the nerves branch out from between the space between vertebrae (the bones of the spine). 

There are two types of spinal stenosis: lumbar stenosis and cervical stenosis. While lumbar spinal stenosis is more common, cervical spinal stenosis is more serious because it involves compression of the spinal cord.

Where the stenosis is found will determine which area of the body the symptoms will be found. If you have spinal canal stenosis, the spinal canal is narrowed in the neck or the low back. If it occurs at the opening where the spinal nerves exit from the spine, the space between the vertebrae, then it is commonly called a lateral recess stenosis.

Cord compression in the neck can cause lower back and lower extremity symptoms. So that must always be considered when you have symptoms in the lower extremities.

Symptoms can include pain, numbness, pins and needles and loss of motor control. If the stenosis is located on the right side then you will have symptoms on the right side. If your symptoms are left sided the stenosis will be found on the left side. It can be located on both sides which will end up causing bilateral symptoms.

Who Gets Stenosis?

Since stenosis is the result of narrowing that is usually caused by bony spurring and ridging due to osteoarthrosis. People over the age of 50 are the most commonly afflicted.

How Is Stenosis Treated?

The location and extent of the stenosis will often dictate the type of treatment you should use.

If the symptoms are minimal and have a minor effect on your activities and life, a more conservative approach can be utilized. These may include:

  • Exercise.
  • Physical therapy.
  • Chiropractic.
  • Medications.
  • Posture awareness and training.
  • Acupuncture.
  • Lifestyle modification.

If the stenosis is more advanced with symptoms and signs of a more severe nature such as:
- muscular weakness,
- loss of sensation,
- urinary incontinence...
...then surgery may be your only option.

If you suffer with any of these neurological deficits you should consult your physician immediately.

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