Spinal stenosis is a spine condition where the spinal canal at one or more spinal levels is narrowed. This is common in people over the age of 50 and may or may not cause symptoms. Spinal stenosis can affect younger people that are born with a narrowed spinal canal.
Most cases of spinal stenosis are caused by gradual wear and tear of the spine with age. The spinal ligaments can become thickened and stiff.
Osteoarthritis is the degenerative process of bones and joints that occurs as cartilage wears out. With osteoarthritis of the spine abnormal bone spurs can grow called osteophytes, these can grow into the spinal canal and vertebral joints, and can compress nerves
Spinal stenosis occurs most often in the lower back (lumbar spine) and the neck (cervical spine). Symptoms may build up gradually or start suddenly as the spinal canal becomes narrowed and pressure increases.
Symptoms of spinal stenosis
- Back or neck pain
- Numbness/tingling in a hand/arm/leg/foot
- Walking difficulty
- Balance problems
- Leg pain that is worse when walking and eases off with rest
Diagnosis of Spinal Stenosis
A Spine specialist will take a medical history and perform a physical examination. They might then organise further imaging tests to reach the diagnosis. These might include X-ray, MRI and CT scans.
Treatment of Spinal Stenosis
Often non-surgical treatments can help relieve the symptoms of spinal stenosis. Simple pain relief medications, anti-inflammatory medications and medications for nerve pain are also prescribed. Physiotherapy may help build up muscle strength, improve posture, flexibility and balance. Steroid injections (cortisone) can help relieve some of the inflammation around affected nerve roots.
Surgical treatments are reserved for cases where conservative measures are not sufficient. There are various types of spinal decompression surgery depending upon the type and cause of spinal stenosis. These procedures involve removing the portion of bone (vertebra) as well as the thickened spinal ligaments in order to permanently decompress the spinal canal. Allowing more space for the nerves to travel through and reverse the pressure symptoms of spinal stenosis.
Types of surgery include laminectomy, foraminotomy, and spinal fusion may sometimes be required to join two spine bones to one another to improve symptoms.