If the space within the spine becomes restricted, either by a degenerative disorder or a congenital condition, the spinal cord and nerve roots may be compressed. Spinal stenosis is generally divided into two subtypes: central spinal stenosis and lateral (foraminal) spinal stenosis. The condition usually is not symptomatic, however when the spinal cord or nerve roots become compressed or irritated, symptoms such as numbness, weakness and tingling occur in the arms or legs. Pain is less common, but also may be experienced if the condition progresses beyond mild canal stenosis.
Causes of spinal canal stenosis
A number of anatomical abnormalities can reduce the size of the spinal canal or the foramina – the openings on either side of vertebrae through which the spinal nerves pass. Most of these abnormalities arise from conditions related to the aging process. One of the most common is the gradual thickening of the spinal ligaments, including the largest, the ligamentum flavum. By middle age, the ligamentum flavum has begun to lose its elasticity and flexibility, and when the spine is straightened as when standing erect, it may irritate the spinal cord or nerve roots. In the early stages, this mild canal stenosis might produce slightly uncomfortable sensations in the areas of the body innervated by the affected nerve root or roots. As it progresses, symptoms could become more severe.
Other conditions that can produce mild canal stenosis include:
- Spinal arthritis
- Herniated disc
- Bulging disc
- Spinal tumors
- Congenital defects
- Paget’s disease (abnormal bone destruction and re-growth)
- Kyphosis or lordosis associated with achondroplasia (dwarfism)
Minimally invasive treatment for spinal stenosis
While the majority of cases of mild canal stenosis can be managed effectively using conservative treatment like physical therapy or pain medicine, cases of severe canal stenosis may require surgery. Minimally invasive procedures, such as those performed at Laser Spine Institute, avoid the undesirable aspects of traditional open spinal surgery. Contact us to learn how an outpatient procedure performed using advanced surgical techniques may help you treat neck or back pain caused by canal stenosis.