Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal and usually occurs in people over 50 years of age. The narrowing can occur at the center of your spine in the canals that branch off of your spine. It can also occur between the bones of your spine (vertebrae). As the canals narrow, they put pressure on your nerves and spinal cord and can cause pain and other symptoms. When the spinal canal narrows in the neck area of your spine, it is called cervical spinal stenosis. In the lower part of your spine, it is known as lumbar spinal stenosis. Symptoms of spinal stenosis develop gradually and worsen over time. Symptoms also vary depending on the area of the spine that is affected.
Cervical Spinal Stenosis Symptoms
In the early stages of cervical spinal stenosis (neck area of the spine), you may not experience any symptoms of spinal stenosis even though the condition can be seen on an x-ray. As pressure increases on the spinal cord, you may experience:
Lumbar Spinal Stenosis Symptoms
As pressure increases from spinal stenosis in the lumbar area of your spine (lower back), you may experience:
Spinal Stenosis Causes
The leading cause of spinal stenosis is the process of aging. The wear and tear on the spine over a period of 50 years or more can cause the cushions (discs) between your vertebrae to flatten and bulge. Eventually, the degenerated discs may develop tiny tears in their tough, fibrous outer covering. The tears cause the jelly-like substance in the disc's center to protrude and press on your spinal cord and nerve roots. Also, the tendons (tough rope-like cords) that hold the spine together can thicken and stiffen over time which narrows the spinal canal. Together, the degenerative changes of the thickening spinal tendons and the bulging discs can cause spinal stenosis.
Other causes of spinal stenosis are:
Spinal Stenosis Treatment
Nonsurgical treatments for spinal stenosis include pain medications, physical therapy and steroid injections. For more severe cases, spine surgery such as Cervical Laminectomy, Lumbar Laminectomy, Cervical Fusion or Lumbar Fusion may be recommended by your orthopaedist.
The multidisciplinary team of orthopaedic experts at North Shore-LIJ Orthopaedic Institute's Spine Services in New York treats spinal stenosis as well as a broad range of spine conditions that can occur at any stage of life.