Characterized by a narrowing of the spinal canal—in which the spinal cord rests—spinal stenosis is most commonly a result of the natural aging process and the deterioration of the intervertebral discs and facet joints. For many of those afflicted with spinal stenosis the root of the problem can be traced to some form of arthritis, causing the aforementioned joints to fail—a result of the degeneration of a disc and an accompanying shift in weight—to the point where there is not enough room for nerve roots to function normally. And in conjunction with a failure of the disc, bone spurs can protrude into the spinal canal and ligaments can become irritated, all of which puts additional pressure on already damaged nerves.
The signs of spinal stenosis mimic the symptoms of other problems associated with the spine, including back pain as well as pain in the extremities; a change in sensitivity in the extremities that may include numbness, tingling or acute and abrupt shock-like feelings; and an aching pain that moves down through the extremities, especially into the legs, that falls into the category of “sciatica.” A foot that drags while walking and a relief in pain while sitting and leaning forward are also sure signs that spinal stenosis is present.
To determine the location and severity of the impacted nerves causing spinal stenosis, a physician will most likely utilize imaging technologies such as x-rays, CT scans and MRIs. And once a diagnosis is confirmed, treatment typically begins with physical therapy and devices to stabilize the lumbar (lower back) region combined with medications to manage inflammation and pain. In severe cases of spinal stenosis where surgery is required, procedures will concentrate on alleviating the compression being exerted on nerves, sometimes through a removal of the damaged disk.