Lumbar Spinal Stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal – the space that runs between the vertebra and the spinal cord.
The narrowing can be caused for several reasons, a degenerative disc condition may cause fragments of disc to fall into the spinal canal; people with osteoarthritis may find that small spurs of bony tissue are growing into the same area, even a herniated disc caused by a trauma can push into the spinal canal and reducing the space.
Now as this space is reduced it means that there is less room for the nerves that occupy this area as they exit the spine and into the legs. The nerves will then become inflamed which can cause pain anywhere along the path of the effected nerve. In fact Lumbar Spinal Stenosis is the most common reason for back surgery in people over age 50 in the United States.
However it’s not just people over the age of 50 who can be affected by lumbar Spinal Stenosis, a great majority of younger people can be affected due to an accident or a sporting injury. In fact a trauma that causes a herniated disc which pushes into the spinal canal will also give the symptoms of Lumbar Spinal Stenosis.
So what are the symptoms of lumbar Spinal Stenosis? The early symptoms will be a chronic lower back pain – as the nerves become inflamed and cause a the muscles in this area to spasm.
You will also feel a heaviness, weakness, and pain in the top of the legs, and you will find it difficult to stand or walk for any distance. You will probably find that the symptoms are greatly eased by sitting. In a few extreme cases you may have bowel or bladder problems, as the nerves that service these areas are affected. Urgent medical advice should be sought in this instance.
Lumbar Spinal Stenosis Difficult To Diagnose
Lumbar Spinal Stenosis is difficult to diagnose at the outset, as the symptoms are very similar to other lower back complaints such as sciatica, so your medical adviser will probably arrange for an MRI scan.
This scan is a detailed x-ray, which will show clearly whether the space in the spinal canal has been reduced, and why. Once diagnosed, and depending on the severity of the Stenosis, treatment can be one of two options – Surgical or non-surgical.
In approximately 90% of cases the non surgical option will be the route to take. A course of anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxants are usually the first line of treatment, together with a lower back pain exercise program, and/or stretches – that are designed to strengthen the core muscles that support your lower back. You may also be offered a course of physical therapy.
Another option for the relief of pain from lumbar Spinal Stenosis is cortisone or epidural injection, although this may provide relief from leg and back pain by reducing swelling and inflammation, it doesn’t repair damaged nerves or stop the degenerative processes.
Surgical intervention really is the very last resort with Lumbar Spinal Stenosis, and should only be considered if all else has failed. Now as stated earlier the cause of Lumbar Spinal Stenosis is due to a disc or a bony spur pushing into the spinal canal, and the most common surgical procedure is called a laminectomy.
A laminectomy will remove parts of the bones, spurs and tissues and that are compressing the nerves that exit the spinal canal. You will usually remain in hospital for 3-4 days, but you will be encouraged to keep active, although you should avoid any exercise, lifting or any activity that can put your lower back under strain, for a period of about 6 weeks.
In summary lumbar Spinal Stenosis, can cause you a lot of pain, and can last for several months, and sometimes years, however if you are able to alter your lifestyle and introduce a weekly lower back exercise program into your routine, keep your weight down, and practice good posture there is no reason why you should remain pain free for many, many years, and also avoid any surgical intervention.