What is spinal stenosis?

Spinal stenosis is a condition in which the spinal cord is compressed because of a narrowing of either the spinal canal within the spinal column, or the openings through which nerves extend away from the spinal column.

The spinal column refers to the column created by your vertebrae. This column is hollow at its core, creating a spinal canal to house and protect the spinal cord, which is a long, tube-shaped bundle of nerves that extends from the brain. Nerves exit this column and extend to all parts of your body, leaving the spinal column through openings in the backbone called the neural foramina. When these hollow spaces narrow (a process called stenosis), pressure is put on nearby nerves.

Spinal stenosis can be caused by arthritis, as well as degeneration of your bones and discs through the aging process. It can also be caused by a congenital defect (present at birth), by injury, spinal tumors, or bone diseases. In some cases, any kind of surgery on the spine can also lead to spinal stenosis.

You can have spinal stenosis and still lead an active life for years. However, in some cases you may need surgery to relieve pressure or partial pressure on your spinal cord. Because surgery has adverse effects of its own, you and your physician will need to weigh your options carefully.

Spinal cord compression from spinal stenosis can lead to a serious injury of various nerves in your body and this damage can become permanent, even after relieving that pressure. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms of nerve compression, such as loss of sensation in the limbs or shoulders; a complete loss of balance; or loss of bladder or bowel control, especially in combination with weakness in your legs. Also seek immediate care for serious symptoms, such as abnormal sensations or sudden weakness or numbness on one side of your body, paralysis, and changes in level of consciousness.

Seek prompt medical care if you are being treated for spinal stenosis but symptoms recur or are persistent.

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of spinal stenosis?

Symptoms of spinal stenosis may develop gradually and increase over time. Sometimes they occur on only one side of the body, depending on which nerves are being compressed or stressed.

Common symptoms of spinal stenosis

You may experience spinal stenosis symptoms constantly or on and off during the day. At times any of these symptoms can be severe:

CAUSES

What causes spinal stenosis?

Spinal stenosis can be caused by arthritis, as well as degeneration of the bones and discs through the aging process. It can also be caused by a congenital defect (present at birth), by injury, chronic infection or inflammation, spinal tumors, or bone diseases. In some cases, any kind of surgery on the spine can also lead to spinal stenosis.

Causes of spinal stenosis

Th... Read more about spinal stenosiscauses

TREATMENTS

How is spinal stenosis treated?

The preferred treatment for cases of persistent back pain from spinal stenosis is a combination of physical therapy, prescribed exercise, and medications for chronic pain. In some cases, you may benefit from steroid injections for temporary pain relief. Only if you have persistent pain, or if your pain does not respond to... Read more about spinal stenosistreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 30, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Brain and Nerves