FAQ’s on Spinal Stenosis
What is spinal stenosis?
Spinal stenosis is a condition of narrowing of the spinal canal that may occur in any location throughout the spine. This narrowing occurs in the foramen within the vertebra through which the spinal cord passes. Lumbar stenosis and cervical stenosis are the most commonly occurring types of stenosis (with lumbar occurring most often between those two types). Cervical stenosis is the more dangerous form however, as it applies pressure to the spinal cord in the cervical, or neck area, and so has the potential to affect a greater portion of the body.
Who can get spinal stenosis?
Anyone can suffer from spinal stenosis. The elderly are more likely to develop the
condition due to arthritis. Degeneration of the intervertebral discs causes the vertebra to come into contact with one another. This results in the deterioration of the cartilage and causes the development of arthritis, which is a buildup of calcification in the joints. This arthritis in turn causes the narrowing of the spinal foramen in the vertebra.
Spinal stenosis can also occur from an impact injury where the vertebra is broken and when the bone heals the new bone growth narrows the vertebral foramen. Other causes of spinal stenosis are birth defects and cancerous growth.
What are the symptoms of spinal stenosis?
The most common symptom of spinal stenosis is pain. This pain can come in many different forms and locations depending upon the location and severity of the stenosis. Sciatica is a condition of shooting pain through the buttock and down the back of the leg, often extending to the foot. It is described as a burning, stinging, or aching pain.
There may also be numbness and tingling throughout the buttock and down the leg, in more severe cases the numbing and tingling occurs simultaneously with the burning, stinging pain. Another symptom that may occur is a condition referred to as “foot drop. “ This condition occurs when the pressure on the nerve is severe to the point that the affected foot will “droop,” or drag, as if limp. Foot drop often accompanies weakness in the legs. This pain and weakness is often exacerbated by standing and walking as well as other physical activity.
How is spinal stenosis diagnosed?
Diagnosis is performed by your physician by discussing your symptoms and medical history, followed by a thorough physical exam. If this warrants further investigation, your physician may then have you undergo imaging such as x-rays or a MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) in order to get a look at the bone, muscles, and ligaments of your spine.
When these procedures are performed they are intended to determine if there are bone spurs or arthritis in the vertebra of the spine or to determine if spondylolisthesis is present. Spondylolisthesis is a condition of excessive mobility and instability in the joints of the spine. Your physician may also perform a myelogram. This is a procedure where dye is injected into the nerves in order to determine if there is pressure being exerted on them.
What treatment is available for patients suffering from spinal stenosis?
Treatment for spinal stenosis begins with low invasive procedures like physical therapy: stretching exercises, massage, and lumbar strengthening exercises are tried first. If these methods prove ineffective your physician may give you non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen or naproxen sodium. If these are ineffective they may prescribe opioid analgesic pain medications.
Other methods of treatment can include steroid injections. This procedure is performed by injecting a combination of a cortico-steroid and pain relieving drugs into the area of the spine appropriate to numb the nerves that are affected by the stenosis.
If none of these procedures prove effective, then surgical intervention may be required. Procedures that may be performed include a laminectomy, a procedure where bone spurs of portions of the vertebra are removed to allow a larger opening for the spinal cord or nerve root to pass through.
Another procedure is spinal fusion. This is performed by placing a piece of bone between the vertebrae to spread them open. This piece of bone will eventually grow, or fuse into the surrounding vertebra. The surgeon may also use a titanium basket between the vertebrae in place of bone fragment.
If you suffer from spinal stenosis discuss with your physician what the best path to relief for you.