Spinal stenosis occurs when the space inside the spinal canal becomes too narrow. When the spinal canal gets too small, the spinal cord or nerves within this space can become compressed. Some people with lumbar spinal stenosis may have no symptoms while others my experience pain, tingling, muscle weakness and numbness in their legs. In more severe cases, it may become difficult to control the bowels or bladder. Symptoms can get worse over time. Spinal stenosis cannot be cured, but there are several treatments that can improve the symptoms.
There are several possible underlying causes of spinal stenosis including congenital conditions, tumors, bone growths or degeneration. Spinal stenosis in earlier ages is most often due to congenital abnormalities, while in patients over the age of 50, spinal stenosis is most often due to degeneration.
- Osteoarthritis: The most common cause of spinal stenosis is osteoarthritis in which the joints undergo gradual wear and tear over time. Osteoarthritis can cause the spinal cord to break down, leading to spinal stenosis.
- Herniated disc: Intervertebral discs are soft cushions between the bones of the spine that act as shock absorbers and help hold the spine bones together. These discs can sometimes rupture, pushing the soft material into the spinal canal and causing spinal stenosis.
- Trauma/spinal injuries: Trauma to the back (such as in a car accident or blunt injury) can cause the spinal bones to break or move out of place, compressing the spinal canal.
- Tumor: Tumors growing in the spinal canal may cause narrowing of the spinal canal.
Diagnosis of spinal stenosis is based on the symptoms reported, physical exam findings that a doctor will perform and imaging tests. Imaging tests include:
- CT/CT myelogram
- Bone scan
- Electromyography (EMG)