Spinal canal stenosis — causes, symptoms and treatments

Canal stenosis in the spine is a condition in which the spinal canal, or the passageway that contains the spinal cord, becomes narrower due to factors like age and injury. Eventually, this narrowing can lead to compression of either the spinal cord or an exiting nerve root. The resulting symptoms can range from mild and irritating to severe pain that can affect nearly every part of your life, from family and work, to sleep and leisure activities.

The good news is that canal stenosis symptoms can be treated, and without the need for surgery in many cases. Learning more about this condition can help you work with your doctor to develop a treatment plan with the best chance of returning you to the people and activities you love.

Canal stenosis can be caused by a range of conditions

Canal stenosis is caused by age-related degeneration in a large number of cases. The natural aging process causes the parts of the spine to dry out and become less able to withstand the pressure of weight and movement. This also can be attributed to the specific conditions that displace spinal anatomy and lead to canal stenosis, such as:

  • Spinal osteoarthritis. A condition in which the cartilage protecting the spinal joints becomes brittle, leading to joint inflammation and swelling.
  • Herniated discs. A herniated disc occurs when the soft nucleus of a spinal disc pushes through the outer layer.
  • Bone spurs. Usually related to arthritis, a bone spur occurs as a natural response to increased friction and instability between the joints.

The nerve pathways in the spine are tightly constructed and surrounded by spinal anatomy like the joints and discs so it is very easy for these conditions to cause narrowing and potentially put pressure on spinal nerves.

What does canal stenosis feel like?

Many people don’t feel the effects of their canal stenosis. That’s because symptoms like pain, tingling and muscle weakness typically only develop when the narrowing compresses nerve roots or the spinal cord. Symptoms typically vary based on the location of stenosis. For instance:

  • Stenosis in the cervical (upper) spine can cause symptoms in the shoulders, arms, neck, upper back and head.
  • Stenosis in the thoracic (middle) part of the spine can cause symptoms in the abdomen, ribs and central back.
  • Stenosis in the lumbar (lower) part of the spine can cause symptoms in the hips, buttocks, legs and feet.

Some patients are able to manage these symptoms with conservative treatments, such as rest, pain medications and activity modification. Patients with severe symptoms, however, may require surgery if weeks or months go by without finding the relief necessary to return to an active life.

If you have been told surgery is your best option, Laser Spine Institute offers minimally invasive spine surgery as a safer and effective alternative^ to traditional open spine surgery. Our procedures are performed on an outpatient basis with muscle-sparing techniques, leading to many advantages for our patients.

For a no-cost MRI review* to determine if you may be a candidate for one of our procedures, contact us today.