Spinal Stenosis Causes and Symptoms
What Causes Spinal Stenosis?
Spinal stenosis is a condition that affects people over the age of 50 years, where your spinal canal starts to narrow. There are many people who have spinal stenosis as evidenced through MRI and CT scans, that my not have any symptoms at all. Spinal stenosis starts gradually and can worsen over time due to many different causes. The symptoms can vary depending on the location of the stenosis and the nerves they compress.
The spine is made up of 33 vertebrae, facet joints and spinal shock-absorbing discs that protect the spinal cord, a key part of our central nervous system that allows our brain to communicate with our body.
For most people, spinal stenosis is caused by arthritis. The spinal canal and the space around the spinal cord and nerves may begin to narrow becoming smaller causing tightness or pinching of the spinal cord and nerves. This pinching causes pain, numbness and tingling in your arms, torso and legs.
Common Causes of Spinal Stenosis
- Herniated Discs – The soft cushions call disc, function as shock absorbers between your vertebrae, tend to dry out with age. Cracks in a disc’s exterior may allow some of the soft inner material to escape (herniate) and press on the spinal cord or nerves.
- Boney Overgrowth – Normal wear and tear from osteoarthritis on your spine’s vertebrae can begin the formation of bone spurs, which can grow into the spinal canal. Paget’s disease, a bone disease that usually affects adults, also can cause bone overgrowth in the spine.
- Spinal Tumor – A cancerous growth in the spinal canal touches the spinal cord, spinal stenosis can develop.
- Thickening Ligaments – These rubbery tough ligaments that holds the bones of your spine together, can become thickened and stiff over time. These thickened ligaments can bulge into the spinal canal.
- Spinal Injuries – Traumatic events like car accidents can cause dislocations or fractures of one or more vertebrae. Displaced bone fragments from a spinal fracture may damage the ligaments or spinal cord and nerves of the spinal canal. Swelling of nearby tissue immediately after back surgery also can put pressure on the spinal cord or nerves.
What are the Symptoms of a Spinal Stenosis?
There are potentially many symptoms that could happen with spinal stenosis. The symptoms are mainly determined by severity and location in the spine. Here are the most common symptoms:
- Sciatica – Shooting pain down one or both legs, start as an ache in the lower back or buttocks.
- Foot Drop – Pain and weakness in your leg that may cause you to “drag” your foot on the ground.
- Trouble Walking Or Standing – Standing upright the spinal stenosis can compress the spinal nerves and cause pain.
- Loss Of Bowel And Bladder Control – In some rare cases the stenosis can cause cauda equina syndrome, weakness of the nerves controlling the bladder or bowel.
- Tingling Sensation – Spinal stenosis can compress the nerves in the neck and back causing symptoms in the arms/hands or legs
If you begin to have trouble breathing or loss of control of bladder and bowels, call 911 as you may be experiencing an emergency situation from spinal stenosis compressing your spinal cord called cauda equina syndrome, which may require immediate spine professional care.