Stenosis is a medical term used to describe an abnormal narrowing of a bodily passage. When dealing with back health, there are two major areas we see problematic stenosis. One is the lower back, or lumbar; the other is cervical, or up near the neck. While there are cases of congenital spinal stenosis, most spinal stenosis is the result of normal aging. It’s another common condition that’s important to be aware of for a several reasons. First, the risk of developing serious complications as a result of spinal stenosis can be reduced by taking the kind of preventative measures essential to overall spine health, such as regular exercise, proper nutrition, and modifying workplace or lifestyle behaviors that jeopardize spine health. Second, in certain cases, spinal stenosis can pose serious health risks, so it’s crucial to stay alert to signs something dangerous is developing.
Spinal stenosis of either variety generally places more pressure on nerves as it grows more severe. A lucky few may experience no symptoms, but overwhelming spinal stenosis compressed nerves cause uncomfortable sensations such as numbness, weakness, tingling, and/or pain. These symptoms can be similar for lumbar and cervical stenosis patients, although some are more indicative of one form.
Lumbar stenosis compresses the spinal nerve roots in the lower back. This can lead to symptoms associated with sciatica, namely tingling, numbness, etc. that radiates down the lower back through the legs. It can also lead to leg pain that occurs while walking, a symptom that may be alleviated when sitting or leaning forward, as when pushing a supportive device.
Unpleasant though its symptoms may be, lumbar stenosis doesn’t present as much danger overall health as cervical stenosis. Whereas lumbar stenosis compresses the spinal nerve roots, cervical stenosis causes compression of the actual spinal cord–a condition known as myelopathy. Myelopathy can lead to extreme weakness and paralysis. Early signs include loss of fine motor skills, “electric shock” sensations shooting through limbs, and arm pain.
Stenosis can occur in the mid, or thoracic section of the spine, but it’s rare, and much less likely to lead to any serious problems.
Lumbar stenosis is often treatable with a combination of physical therapy, pain medications, and bed rest. Corticosteroid injections may also offer relief in some cases. Myelopathy, which can develop from cervical stenosis, is a significantly more threatening condition, and one which likely merits surgical intervention.
Diagnosing the source of spinal stenosis is an important step in establishing a long term wellness plan. If you’ve started experiencing symptoms of spinal stenosis, we encourage you to request an appointment with our spine care specialists.