Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis can be a frequent cause of back pain. Millions of people suffer from acute or chronic back pain. Sometimes this can be accompanied by leg pain as well. This condition can occur in different forms, for different reasons.

Read on to learn more.

What is it?

Simply defined, it is any narrowing of some or all of the spinal column, through which the spinal cord and nerves pass. This "narrowing" can exert a tightening constriction and pressure upon the structures that occupy the spinal canal, namely nerves. It can be found at virtually any and every level, but is seen more commonly in the lumbar (low back) and cervical (neck) regions.

Causes can range from acute trauma, to bone over-growth from arthritis, tumor presence within the canal and congenital (hereditary) narrowing.

Congenital Spinal Stenosis

This condition occurs when there are abnormalities of the bony and soft tissue structures of the spinal column formed during embryonic development. This could manifest itself by the presence of excess bone causing a "tight" spinal canal. Other manifestations could include abnormal number of spinal segments and/or overgrowth of supportive bone elements in the spinal column. It is often diagnosed in adolescent years when there is a difficulty and pain with performing athletic or sporting activity.

Degenerative Spinal Stenosis

This type is typically caused by overall deterioration and degeneration of the various structures that make up the spinal column, such as bones and inter-vertebral discs.

With the aging process comes the degeneration of the disc material which causes narrowing of bony spaces throughout the spinal column, but the lumbar and cervical areas in particular. With this narrowing comes bone spur formation which compounds the resulting pressure on the spinal nerves. Bone spurs press, discs bulge and, voila; a plugged canal.

Pathologic Spinal Stenosis

This pathologic variation is typically caused by encroachment of the spinal nerves by some sort of "space-occupying" abnormality such as a tumor. These tumors do not have to be malignant to be problematic. Even benign, non-cancerous tumors and cysts can cause abnormal and dangerous pressure on the nerves as they grow and enlarge.

"Cauda Equina Syndrome";The Ultimate Blockage

Because spinal canal obstruction can occur in different forms of severity, treatment varies, and is relative to this severity. The more pressure that is applied to spinal nerves, the more severe the potential problems can be come, such as permanent nerve injury, and even loss of bodily functions (i.e. bowel/bladder function).

Cauda Equina Syndrome refers to the name given to the area of the spinal cord where the cord itself ends and the nerves continue down the canal; hence cauda equina ('horse's tail")

This most severe and threatening form occurs when there is massive obstruction of the lumbar spinal canal, frequently the result of a large ruptured inter-vertebral disc, or subluxation (partial dislocation) of a vertebral segment, which compresses the nerves to the point that they can no longer function and can affect bodily functions. The bodily functions typically involved in this scenario are loss of bowel and bladder function.

This is a true emergency, for if the pressure on these nerves is not relieved expeditiously, the loss of these bodily functions can become permanent.

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