Medicine describes spinal stenosis as the abnormal narrowing of the spinal canal and subsequent compression of the associated spinal structures. Spinal stenosis may occur at any level of the spine however typical symptoms that may be experienced are often similar no matter what location of the problem.
To appropriately imagine spinal stenosis it is important to have an understanding of spinal structure and the role of the spinal column. The spinal column consists of individual bones which are aligned on top of each other. These bones are referred to as vertebrae and along with the surrounding muscles, ligaments and inverterebral discs provide flexibility and movement for the spine. Running through the spine from top to bottom is the spinal canal which contains the spinal cord, associated nerves, blood vessels and cerebrospinal fluid. The primary role of the spinal column is to protect these delicate structures from injury.
How Does Spinal Stenosis Influence The Spine?
During normal circumstances there is ample space in the spinal canal. However, with the development of abnormal growths, degenerative change and other reasons which will be explored below this space may become compromised and result in narrowing. This narrowing can impact on the function and health of spinal nerves causing symptoms of spinal stenosis.
Signs & Symptoms
- Cervical stenosis can cause numbness, weakness or tingling in a leg, foot, arm or hands. Tingling felt in the hands is the most common sign.
- Lumbosacral stenosis can cause pain or cramping in your legs when you stand for long periods of time or when you walk. The discomfort usually eases when you bend forward or sit down. Bowel and bladder incontinence may also occur.
- Genetics: some individuals may be born with congenital spinal stenosis or associated spinal deformities
- Spinal conditions such as Spondylolithesis may result in narrowing and compression of neural structures
- Abnormal growths (tumour, cancer) may develop within the spinal canal
- Trauma: accidents or injuries may results in spinal dislocation or fracture
- Degenerative changes such as Arthritis may result in compression and bony growths called Osteophytes