Spinal Canal Stenosis
- What is spinal canal stenosis?
- What are the causes of spinal canal stenosis?
- What are the symptoms of spinal canal stenosis?
- How is spinal canal stenosis diagnosed?
- How is spinal canal stenosis managed?
Spinal canal stenosis is a condition caused by narrowing of the spinal canal due to excess bone growth or tissue such as cartilage. The spine is narrowed in one or more of three parts:
- The space at the centre of the spine
- The canals where nerves branch out from the spine
- The space between vertebrae (the bones of the spine)
Spinal stenosis is most common in men and women over 50 years old. Younger people who were born with a narrow spinal canal or who hurt their spines may also get spinal stenosis.
- Osteoarthritis (wear and tear arthritis)
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Congenital conditions
- Tumours of the spine
- Paget's disease (a disease that affects the bones)
- Too much fluoride in the body
- Calcium deposits on the ligaments that run along the spine
There may be no symptoms of spinal stenosis, or symptoms may appear slowly and get worse over time. Signs of spinal stenosis include:
- Pain in the neck or back
- Numbness, weakness, cramping, or pain in the arms or legs
- Pain going down the leg
- Foot problems
One type of spinal stenosis, cauda equine syndrome, is a very serious condition that requires immediate medical intervention. This type occurs when there is pressure on nerves in the lower back. Symptoms may include:
- Loss of control of the bowel or bladder
- Problems having sex
- Pain, weakness, or loss of feeling in one or both legs
If you have any of these symptoms, you should call your doctor right away.
To diagnose spinal stenosis, your doctor will ask about your medical history and conduct a physical exam. Your doctor may also order one or more tests, such as:
- X rays
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - a test that uses radio waves to look at your spine
- Computerized axial tomography (CAT) - a series of x rays that give your doctor a detailed image of your spine
- Myelogram - a test in which the doctor injects liquid dye into your spinal column
- Bone scan - a test in which you are given a shot of radioactive substance that shows where bone is breaking down or being formed
Conservative Treatment Options
There are many nonsurgical treatments for spinal stenosis. Your doctor may prescribe:
- Medicines to reduce swelling
- Medicines to relieve pain
- Limits on your activity
- Exercises and/or physical therapy
- A brace for your lower back
Your doctor will likely suggest nonsurgical treatment first unless you have:
- Symptoms that get in the way of walking
- Problems with bowel or bladder function
- Problems with your nervous system
Your doctor will take many factors into account in deciding if surgery is right for you. These include:
- The success of nonsurgical treatments
- The extent of the pain
- Your preferences