Why is canal stenosis sometimes asymptomatic?

Canal stenosis is an abnormal narrowing within a section of the spinal canal. It can occur at any level within the spine — cervical (neck), thoracic (midback) or lumbar (lower back).

This type of narrowing within the spinal canal often is associated with an age-related degenerative spine condition or traumatic injury, such as the growth of bone spurs (osteophytes), a herniated disc or bulging disc. Generally, as the spine ages, the components of the spine weaken and can shift out of alignment, causing the narrow space in the spinal canal to constrict even further.

For many people, however, canal stenosis remains unnoticed for years. That is because the condition itself does not cause any symptoms; it is asymptomatic. Because the spinal canal holds the nerve roots and allows them to travel between the spine and the brain, spinal canal stenosis increases the risk of nerve compression. However, if a nerve root remains untouched while the canal narrows, no symptoms will develop.

Nerve compression explained

Canal stenosis is one of many conditions that can produce spinal nerve compression, which occurs when a portion of the spine presses against one of the dozens of nerve roots that originate along the spinal cord and carry sensory and motor signals to the rest of the body.

Nerve compression symptoms include:

  • Localized pain
  • Pain that travels the length of an affected nerve
  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Muscle weakness

The spinal cord also can be vulnerable to compression due to spinal canal stenosis. Cord compression can be more serious than nerve root compression, producing potentially life-threatening symptoms or paralysis. If you experience a sudden loss of bladder or bowel control, you need to seek immediate medical attention.

Certain movements can cause pain

Even if symptoms are not evident while sitting or standing normally, certain movements can produce nerve contact and cause pain and other symptoms in the presence of canal stenosis.

Also, if another spine condition such as a bone spur or herniated disc worsens, the risk of nerve compression increases because the damaged part of the spine can take up more space in the spinal canal.

If you are experiencing pain and symptoms of canal stenosis, contact the Care Team at Laser Spine Institute to discuss the treatment options available to you. After reviewing your MRI or CT scan, we can guide you through the available nonsurgical and surgical treatment options that may help reduce your pain. Contact us today.