Spinal Stenosis

One cause of back pain is spinal stenosis. Stenosis means abnormal narrowing. The spinal canal contains and protects the spinal nerve roots. In spinal stenosis, the spinal canal narrows and pinches the spinal cord and nerves. This causes low back pain and pain in the legs. Stenosis may pinch the nerves that control muscles and sensation in the legs. This leads to pain and abnormal feelings in the leg muscles and areas supplied by those nerves.

CAUSES

Spinal stenosis often happens to people as they get older and arthritic boney growths occur in their spinal canal. There is also a loss of the disk height between the bones of the back, which also adds to this problem. Sometimes the problem is present at birth.

SYMPTOMS

  • Pain that is generally worse with activities, particularly standing and walking.

  • Numbness, tingling, hot or cold feelings, weakness, or a weariness in the legs.

  • Clumsiness, frequent falling, and a foot-slapping gait, which may come as a result of nerve pressure and muscle weakness.

DIAGNOSIS

  • Your caregiver may suspect spinal stenosis if you have unusual leg symptoms, such as those previously mentioned.

  • Your orthopedic surgeon may request special imaging exams, such a computerized magnetic scan (MRI) or computerized X-ray scan (CT) to find out the cause of the problem.

TREATMENT

  • Sometimes treatments such as postural changes or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs will relieve the pain.

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications may help relieve symptoms. These medicines do this by decreasing swelling and inflammation in the nerves.

  • When stenosis causes severe nerve root compression, conservative treatment may not be enough to maintain a normal lifestyle. Surgery may be recommended to relieve the pressure on affected nerves. In properly selected patients, the results are very good, and patients are able to continue a normal lifestyle.

HOME CARE INSTRUCTIONS

  • Flexing the spine by leaning forward while walking may relieve symptoms. Lying with the knees drawn up to the chest may offer some relief. These positions enlarge the space available to the nerves. They may make it easier for stenosis sufferers to walk longer distances.

  • Rest, followed by gradually resuming activity, also can help.

  • Aerobic activity, such as bicycling or swimming, is often recommended.

  • Losing weight can also relieve some of the load on the spine.

  • Application of warm or cold compresses to the area of pain can be helpful.

SEEK MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • The periods of relief between episodes of pain become shorter and shorter.

  • You experience pain that radiates down your leg, even when you are not standing or walking.

SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • You have a loss of bowel or bladder control.

  • You have a sudden loss of feeling in your legs.

  • You suddenly cannot move your legs.