Spinal stenosis is a condition caused by a narrowing of the spinal column, which compresses the spinal cord. It affects between 8 and 11 percent of the U.S. population and is most common in those who are over the age of 50. If the narrowing is minimal, no symptoms will occur. However, too much narrowing can compress the nerves and cause significant pain and discomfort. This condition may result from a spinal injury, overuse of the neck and back, a genetic condition, arthritis, or another age-related degeneration.
Types of stenosis of the spine, its signs and symptoms
Many people with spinal stenosis may not experience any symptoms at first. However, once the condition worsens and begins to compress the spinal cord and/or nerve roots at any point along the spine, you may experience sciatica, numbness, or tingling in the extremities. Where you feel pain, as well as the type of pain, largely depends on which part of your spine is affected, such as:
- Cervical (upper) stenosis of the spine
Compression in the upper spine may cause localized pain in the neck. Cervical spinal stenosis may also cause radiating pain that travels along the affected nerve and extends through the shoulders arms, and hands.
- Thoracic (middle) stenosis of the spine
Compression in the middle spine may cause localized pain in the central back or torso.
- Lumbar (lower) stenosis of the spine
Compression in the lower spine may cause localized pain in the lower back. Lumbar spinal stenosis may also affect the sciatic nerve, which often causes radiating pain through the hips, legs and feet. [Or it can cause other nerves in the lumbar spine to be damaged that can cause problems with bowel and bladder incontinence and problems with (ataxia) and coordination.]
Stenosis of the spine and nerve damage
Compression of the nerve over time is a key factor in causing long-term harm and may be a permanent injury to the nerve. This permanent injury can be represented as numbness, tingling, weakness, difficulty with coordination and if left without treatment or intervention, can continue to get progressively worse. Typically an MRI and/or nerve tests like an EMG (electromyography) or NCV (nerve conduction velocity) may be helpful in determining the extent of nerve injury.
Although conservative care may help alleviate symptoms, the long-term damage caused by not intervening will, in the long run, cause progressive and permanent damage to the nerve. The purpose of surgery is to decompress the nerve and stop the decline of nerve damage.
Once nerve damage is identified, the sooner the intervention, the better the outcome.
Common causes of stenosis of the spine
While the most common cause of spinal stenosis is aging, there are other conditions that can cause it, including:
- Overuse of the neck and back
- Spine defects present at birth
- A naturally narrow spinal cord
- Spinal curvature or scoliosis
If you or a loved one is struggling with debilitating pain associated with stenosis of the spine, the expert physicians at Neurosurgery & Spine Consultants can help get you back on your feet. We offer advanced, minimally invasive care and spinal treatment in San Antonio. Call 210-255-8935 to schedule an appointment.