A healthy spine protects your spinal cord and nerve roots. Nerve roots are the tiny bundles of nerves that branch off of your spinal cord and transmit nerve messages to your bones, muscles and skin in your upper and lower extremities.
What Is Spinal Stenosis?
Spinal Stenosis is a condition where the spinal column that protects your spinal cord, the small openings (foramen) where the nerve roots branch out from the spine or the space between each vertebrae becomes narrow. This narrowing can compress the spinal cord and nerve roots which results in mild to severe pain or numbness in your arms or legs.
Causes of Spinal Stenosis
- Degenerative Disc Disease
- Ligamentum Flavum Thickening
Ligamentum Flavum Thickening – The medical term is Ligamentum Flavum Hypertrophy, which is basically thickening of the ligament that runs along the inside of the spinal canal. As you age this ligament, called the ligamentum flavum, can become inflamed, thick and swollen. The thickening of the ligamentum flavum causes the spinal canal to narrow which can compressed the nerve roots and spinal cord.
Degenerative Disc Disease – This is a condition where the discs between the vertebrae start to wear down. As they degenerate the discs can become flattened and bulge outward. When the damaged disc bulge back into the spinal canal the nerve roots and spinal cord can become compressed or pinched.
Osteoarthritis – Otherwise known as “wear and tear” arthritis, this condition can affect the tiny facet joints which hold the lamnia arch and vertebrae together which form the spinal canal. When the joints become arthritic bone spurs can start to form, narrowing the spinal canal. This narrowing can compress or pinch the nerve roots and put pressure on the spinal cord.
Narrowing of the spinal canal or openings can happen anywhere along the spine, but it is most often along the upper and lower portions of the spine. When it affects the lower section of the spine, it is called lumbar spinal stenosis. This is the most common type of spinal stenosis.
Symptoms of Lumbar Spinal Stenosis
- Bowel or bladder control issues
- Decrease of sexual function
- Leg pain
- Lower back pain
- Numbness or tingling in the legs
- Pain along the backs of the legs
- Pain when walking or doing normal activities
- Weakness or loss of function in the legs
Pressure on the top section of the spine can cause similar pain or numbness in your shoulders, arms and hands.
Treatments for Spinal Stenosis
- anesthetic or trigger point injections
- anti-inflammatory medication
- chiropractic care
- lumbar brace
- pain relievers
- physical therapy
- restrictive activity
- steroid injections
- surgery -reduce pressure on the spinal cord
Surgery is usually considered if all other treatment options have failed. The purpose of spinal stenosis surgery is to relieve the pressure on the spinal cord or nerve.
Most surgeries involve removing or trimming damaged or diseased structures to open up the narrow canals and openings that are compressing the nerves and causing alignment issues.
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