Spinal Stenosis Spinal Stenosis

Spinal Stenosis

In spinal stenosis, the space around the vertebrae (bones) of the spine becomes lessened. This narrowing can occur in the space between the bones of the spine; the space at the center of the spine (where the spinal cord nerves run); or the channels where the nerves branch out from the spine. As this happens, the space around the nerve roots gets smaller; also, the compression may prompt the growth of bone “spurs” that breach the spinal canal.

Spinal stenosis is generally found in the lumbar (lower back) region of the spine, which bears most of the weight of your body. It can also be found in the cervical (neck) region, where it can affect more of your body and is therefore more dangerous.

Symptoms

As with other conditions that affect the spine, where your symptoms are felt will depend on where your stenosis has occurred:

  • Pain
  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Muscle weakness

If your spinal stenosis is in the lumbar region, these sensations will most likely be felt in your lower body and extremities; if in the cervical region, these sensations will cover more territory, including your upper body and extremities as well.

With either, you may feel pain or have difficulty when you are walking or standing that goes away when you are sitting or leaning forward; this is because that extension action opens up the compressed areas.

If you are experiencing bladder or bowel incontinence, problems with sexual function, or severe pain or numbness in one or both legs, talk to your physician at St. Luke’s immediately, as these symptoms indicate a serious condition that needs to be addressed swiftly.

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Causes

Spinal stenosis is often associated with other conditions, such as osteoarthritis and scoliosis — diseases that put pressure on the bones of the spine. Herniated (or ruptured) disks can also produce this narrowing of the spinal canal. Adults with Paget’s disease may develop spinal stenosis.

Too much fluoride in your body or calcium deposits on or the thickening of ligaments that support the vertebrae of the spine can also cause spinal stenosis, as can trauma or injury to the area.

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Living Better

The pain and fragility you feel from spinal stenosis may make you disinclined to get proper exercise. However, your body actually needs the opposite. A physical therapist at St. Luke’s can recommend the exercises you need to strengthen your muscles and help stabilize your spine.

Your doctor may recommend that you lose weight, which can be difficult if you are experiencing limited mobility. Think of weight loss not as eliminating food, but as eliminating stress on your back; it may help you to visualize a path to better overall health.

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Exams and Tests

Your St. Luke’s physician will give you a thorough medical exam, take your complete medical history and ask about any recent injuries or illnesses. You may be asked to go through certain movements, such as leaning forward, sitting, standing and walking, to see if or when any pain increases or subsides.

An X-raymay be taken, to see if there are any changes to the bones of your spine or if bone spurs have grown. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan may be performed; this test can show any damage to disks and ligaments, and reveal areas where nerves in the spine may be compressed. A computed tomography (CT) scan that uses an injected dye for contrast can also show this kind of damage.

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Treatment

Your team at St. Luke’s will likely include different specialists, depending on the cause of your conditions. The knowledge of any or all of a neurologist, neurosurgeon, rheumatologist, orthopedist, orthopedic surgeon, physical therapist and physiatrist may relied on as a resource.

If your pain or other symptoms are mild, you may be prescribed a course of medicine that will give you temporary relief. Steroid injections, which reduce swelling, may be prescribed. These kinds of injections may relieve pain for a longer period of time, but can only be used a few times a year because they can have a negative effect on surrounding tissue.

At St. Luke’s, minimally invasive procedures are available as solutions, performed by surgeons who are experts in their fields. In one such procedure, called percutaneous lumbar decompression (PILD), part of a thickened ligament in your spinal column can be removed, creating space around the nerve and lessening pressure on the nerve root in the area.

Surgery is a course of action that is used if and when your pain or other symptoms cause you to have a poor quality of life.

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