• Spinal Stenosis

    Definition

    Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal. The spinal canal is located in the backbone. It is a small space that holds the nerve roots and spinal cord. If this space becomes smaller, it can squeeze the nerves and the spinal cord. This causes pain and other symptoms. Stenosis can occur anywhere along the spinal cord. It is most common in the low back (lumbar) region.
    Spinal Stenosis
    Nuclus factsheet image
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

    Causes

    Some people are born with narrowed canals. Most often stenosis is a result of aging. Conditions that can cause spinal stenosis include:

    Risk Factors

    Factors that increase your chance of spinal stenosis include:
    • Being born with a narrow spinal canal
    • Age: 50 or older
    • Previous injury or surgery of the spine

    Symptoms

    Symptoms include:
    • Numbness, weakness, cramping, or pain in the legs and thighs
    • Radiating pain down the leg
    • Abnormal bowel and/or bladder function
    • Decreased sensation in the feet causing difficulty placing the feet when walking
    • Loss of sexual function
    • Partial or complete paralysis of legs

    Diagnosis

    Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
    Tests may include:
    • X-ray—a test that uses radiation to take pictures of structures inside the body; in this case, to check for abnormalities in the bones of the back including osteoarthritis, bone spurs, and obvious narrowing of the spinal canal
    • CT scan—a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of the bones of the back, which helps to evaluate the spinal canal
    • MRI scan—a test that uses magnetic waves to make pictures of soft tissue, such as the spinal cord and the spinal nerves inside the back

    Treatment

    Treatments include:

    Medication

    • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)—to relieve pain and inflammation
    • Analgesics—to relieve pain
    • Corticosteroid injections—to reduce pain and inflammation

    Physical Therapy

    Special exercises can help stabilize the spinal cord. Exercise can increase muscle endurance and mobility of the spine. This can relieve some pain. Sometimes exercises are ineffective against spinal stenosis.

    Support Devices

    Wearing a corset or lumbar brace can help stabilize the spine. This may relieve pain.

    Surgery

    Surgery is reserved for severe cases.
    • Decompression laminectomy—This is the removal of bony spurs or increased bone mass in the spinal canal. This can free up space for the nerves and the spinal cord.
    • Spinal fusion—This is when two vertebrae (back bones) are fused together. This will provide stronger support for the spine. This is almost always done after decompression laminectomy.

    Prevention

    There are no guidelines for preventing spinal stenosis.

    RESOURCES

    American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons http://www.aaos.org

    Arthritis Foundation http://www.arthritis.org

    CANADIAN RESOURCES

    The Arthritis Society http://www.arthritis.ca

    Canadian Orthopaedic Association http://www.coa-aco.org

    References

    American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://www.aafp.org. Accessed July 7, 2009.

    Arthritis Foundation website. Available at: http://www.arthritis.org. Accessed July 7, 2009.

    Berkow R. The Merck Manual of Medical Information. Home Edition. New York, NY: Merck Research Laboratories; 1999.

    Questions & answers about spinal stenosis. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health%5FInfo/Spinal%5FStenosis/default.asp. Published April 2009. Accessed July 7, 2009.

    Revision Information

  • Join WellZones today.

    Make a Change For LifeLearn more

    Wellmont LiveWell is creating a new tradition of wellness in the mountains by providing individuals with tools and encouragement to live healthier lifestyles.

  • HeartSHAPE Spotlight

    At risk for a heart attack? Learn more

    Fight heart disease early and prevent heart attacks with HeartSHAPE® - a painless, non-invasive test that takes pictures of your heart to scan for early-stage coronary disease.

  • Calories and Energy Needs

    Calorie NeedsLearn more

    How many calories do you need to eat each day to maintain your weight and fuel your physical activity? Enter a few of your stats into this calculator to find out.

  • Ideal Body Weight

    Ideal Body WeightLearn more

    Using body mass index as a reference, this calculator determines your ideal body weight range. All you need to do is enter your height.

  • Body Mass Index

    Body Mass IndexLearn more

    This tool considers your height and weight to assess your weight status.


  • Can we help answer your questions?

    Wellmont Nurse Connection is your resource for valuable health information any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Speak to a Nurse any time, day or night, at (423) 723-6877 or toll-free at 1-877-230-NURSE.