Spinal specialists refer to spinal stenosis as a condition in which the open spaces in the spinal canal narrow.
This narrowing in turn can compress both the spinal nerves that extend to the arms and legs as well as the spinal cord, which is sometimes called a myelopathy.
Spinal stenosis typically occurs in the lower back and neck, presenting as a tingling or numbness.
It is a fairly prevalent condition that primarily affects older people, though young people can experience symptoms in some rare cases.
The most common cause of spinal stenosis is wear-and-tear associated with osteoarthritis. However, other causes are vascular in nature and result from the narrowing of the blood vessels after bone overgrowth.
While some people get lucky and experience no signs or symptoms, other people affected by spinal stenosis may experience a plethora of symptoms.
Back and leg pain are the most common symptoms experienced with the pain intensifying while walking.
‘Claudication’ is a term that describes the weakening of legs through pain and numbness that worsens because of walking.
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People afflicted with spinal stenosis often require breaks when walking due to the onset of claudication. Leaning forward and/or sitting down typically relieves the discomfort, and patients do not typically report pain in the legs during a resting state.
Some patients also report feelings of unsteadiness while standing, either in both legs or just one. Tingling and numbness in the affected areas can also be paired with muscle weakness in the appendages. Some patients also experience problems with normal bladder and/or bowel function.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Diagnosis of spinal stenosis can be difficult, as the symptoms resemble signs of many conditions associated with aging. Imaging tests are often used to assist in finding the true causes of the pain and discomfort. After diagnosing spinal stenosis, a variety of medications may be prescribed to reduce and relieve pain.
Walking beyond the threshold of pain may also be a positive strategy, as walking distance will increase with time. Steroid and local anesthetic injections have also been shown to be helpful with leg pain, but the suggestion of this treatment will depend on the severity of symptoms.
In severe cases, surgery may be recommended in order to create more space for the nerves and spinal cord.
These options will all be weighed on an individual basis at the neurology and pain management clinic.
Prognosis will vary on an individual basis and depends on both the extent of the damage and the treatment method selected by the patient and doctor. Without treatment, the condition will gradually worsen with time, greatly decreasing walking distance and further complicating damage to the nerves.
Spinal stenosis is a ‘quality of life’ issue, so the persistence and degree of symptoms and how greatly they affect one’s life will vary on a case-by-case basis.
To begin your journey toward pain relief, contact Dr. Jeffrey M. Epstein for a consultation today.