What is Spinal Stenosis?
Spinal stenosis is a common condition that occurs when the space around the nerves or spinal cord narrows. This narrowing puts pressure on the spinal cord and/or the spinal nerve roots, often leading to pain, tingling, numbness and muscle weakness. The condition usually begins gradually and progresses over time. Depending on where the narrowing takes place, you may feel these symptoms in the lower back, buttocks, legs and feet, shoulder, arms and hands.
Who Gets Spinal Stenosis?
Spinal stenosis affects both men and women and is most common in older adults (50+); typically, the normal “wear-and-tear” effects of aging and arthritis of the spine cause it. (Degenerative changes of the spine are seen in up to 95% of people by the age of 50!) However, it may occur in younger people who are born with a small spinal canal or those who have a herniated disc.
Types of Spinal Stenosis & Symptoms
The most common forms of spinal stenosis are cervical (the neck) and lumbar (the lower back). Thoracic stenosis, which affects the midback, is much less common. Many people show evidence of spinal stenosis on MRI scans but have no signs or symptoms. Symptoms generally develop slowly over time (again, most patients are over 50) and they may come and go. Unfortunately, these symptoms can eventually become chronic and quite debilitating. Symptoms vary, depending on the type (central or foraminal) and severity of spinal stenosis:
Lumbar Spinal Stenosis
When stenosis occurs in the lower back, it’s called lumbar stenosis. This is the most common form of spinal stenosis. An estimated 400,000 Americans suffer from leg pain and/or low back pain caused by lumbar spinal stenosis!
Lumbar spinal stenosis symptoms may include:
- Lower back pain
- Tingling, weakness, numbness or pain that radiates from your lower back into the buttocks and legs (sciatica)
- Weakness, stiffness, numbness, cramping or pain in your legs, thighs or feet that makes it hard to walk (claudication)
You’re typically comfortable at rest but symptoms flare up or get worse when you:
- Stretch or extend your back, i.e. when you walk (especially downhill)
- Stand straight for prolonged periods
- Lean backwards
The pain gets better, sometimes almost immediately, when you:
- Flex your spine forward, i.e. when you walk uphill
- Lean over something (like a grocery cart)
- Sit or lie down
Cervical Spinal Stenosis
When stenosis occurs at the level of the neck, it’s called cervical spinal stenosis. Like lumbar stenosis, it’s frequently caused by age-related degeneration but may also be congenital or caused by disc herniation.
Unlike stenosis in the lower back, cervical spinal stenosis can cause symptoms in both the upper and lower extremities.
This condition can be more dangerous because it involves compression of the actual spinal cord, whereas lumbar spinal stenosis involves compression of the spinal nerves going to the buttocks and lower extremities
Cervical stenosis symptoms may include:
- Neck pain and headaches
- Weakness, numbness, tingling and/or stiffness in your neck, shoulders, arms, hands, or legs
- Burning pain that shoots from your shoulder down your arm
More serious symptoms include:
- Balance and coordination problems, such as shuffling or tripping while walking
- Loss of “position” sense (the ability to “know” where your arms and legs are when your eyes are closed)
To treat this condition at Back Pain Relief Institute, we try to avoid doing procedures as life-altering as a spinal fusion. We recommend and perform endoscopic decompressions to avoid a fusion. See if you are a candidate.;
Endoscopic spine surgery is the ultimate in minimally invasive spine surgery with a very short recovery time. A decompressive procedure, without a fusion, will allow you to continue living your life without the side-effects of a fusion.