Overview of spinal stenosis
Spinal stenosis refers to narrowing of the spinal canal and spinal nerve passageways due to osteoarthritis and other degenerative changes in the spine. This narrowing can compress the spinal nerve roots causing pain, numbness, and muscle weakness. Treatment of spinal stenosis aims to reduce pain, improve motor and sensory function, manage other symptoms, and remove pressure from the spinal nerves.
Spinal stenosis develops slowly over many years. It can occur anywhere along the spine. Some people have few or no signs and symptoms of spinal stenosis at first. Spinal stenosis mainly affects adults older than 50.
As the condition worsens and compresses the spinal nerves, signs and symptoms can include pain in your neck or back, and pain, tingling, numbness, and weakness in your arms and legs. Symptoms vary depending on the location of stenosis along your spine.
Because spinal stenosis symptoms can mimic those of other spine problems, your doctor likely will rely on X-rays and other imaging tests to accurately diagnose your condition.
Symptoms of spinal stenosis
Because spinal stenosis occurs gradually over time, you may not notice symptoms until stenosis is advanced. Eventually, you may experience the following signs and symptoms of spinal stenosis:
- Pain in the neck or back
- Pain in the arms
- Pain in the legs
- Numbness or tingling in the arms or legs
- Muscle weakness in the arms or legs
- Difficulty walking fully upright
Causes of spinal stenosis
The main causes of spinal stenosis are osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease.
Between each bony vertebra in your spine are intervertebral discs that cushion the spine and provide flexibility. When these discs wear down (degenerate) with age and normal wear and tear, the vertebrae start to rub together. This contributes to spinal arthritis — the degeneration of the spinal joints. Your body responds by producing an abnormal amount of bone spurs. These calcifications build up over time, shrink spinal nerve passageways, and put pressure on the spinal nerves.
Spinal injuries and conditions like scoliosis increase the risk of spinal stenosis.