- Cervical stenosis: the narrowing of bone in the neck
- Lumbar stenosis: the narrowing of bone in the lower back
Causes of Spinal Stenosis
A normal, healthy vertebral canal provides enough space for the spinal cord and nerve roots to exit the spine. With spinal stenosis, however, something happens that narrows the space for the spinal cord and spinal nerves. The most common causes of spinal stenosis include:
- Osteoarthritis: wear and tear damage cause by aging, known as osteoarthritis, can result in the formation of bone spurs (overgrowth of bone), which can grow into the spinal canal.
- Spine tumors: abnormal growths of soft tissue into the spine canal can put pressure on the spinal cord and spinal nerves. Soft tissue growths can also lead to bone resorption (bone loss due to overactive bone cells) or displacement of bone.
- Acute trauma: accidents and/or injuries to the spine and spinal canal can affect the spinal cord.
- Herniated discs: discs act as shock absorbers between your vertebrae. Cracks in a discs exterior may allow the soft inner material to escape and press on the spinal cord or nerves.
- Thickened ligaments: ligaments attach bones to other bones. As we age, the ligaments in our spine can become stiff and thicken over time. As ligaments thicken, they can bulge into the spinal canal and put pressure on the spinal cord and nerves.
Symptoms related to spinal stenosis often start gradually and worsen over time. Symptoms vary depending on the location of the stenosis and which nerves are affected.Symptoms of cervical stenosis (neck)
- Pain, numbness, weakness, or tingling in the neck, shoulder, and upper and lower extremities
- Problems with walking and/or balance
- In severe cases, bowel or bladder dysfunction
- Pain, numbness, weakness, or tingling in the foot or leg
- Cramping and muscle weakness in one or both legs when standing for long periods of time or when walking. Pain usually eases when you bend forward or sit.
Nonsurgical treatment options for spinal stenosis include:
- Physical therapy and exercise
- Activity modification to avoid activities that worsen symptoms
- Epidural injections can help temporarily relieve symptoms
- Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication (such as aspirin or ibuprofen) may help alleviate symptoms
If conservative treatment options fail, surgical intervention may be required. In most cases, a decompression surgery is required to treat the symptoms of spinal stenosis. The most common decompression procedure used to treat spinal stenosis is a laminectomy. During a laminectomy, the back portion of the vertebral bone (called the lamina) is removed. This enlarges the spinal canal and relieves pressure on the spinal cord or nerves.
Recovery time following a laminectomy depends on the extent of surgery and your own personal situation. In most cases, patients will be able to return to light activity (desk work and light housekeeping) within a few days to a few weeks. If you had a spinal fusion with your laminectomy, your recovery time will likely be two to four months. Physical therapy will be an important part of your recovery.