Spinal Narrowing - Definition

Spinal narrowing is a reduction of the space available within the spinal column for the spinal cord or exiting nerve roots. By definition, it is synonymous with the term spinal stenosis. Diminished space within the spine can be caused by traumatic injury, an inherited condition or — most frequently — deterioration of the spinal anatomy as part of the aging process. A number of age-related degenerative spine conditions can contribute to spinal stenosis, including bone spurs, herniated discs, bulging discs, calcified ligaments, vertebral slippage (spondylolisthesis) and others. Most of these conditions are asymptomatic unless contact is made with the sensitive nerve roots or the spinal cord itself.

Symptoms and classifications of spinal narrowing

When spinal stenosis causes nerve compression or the irritation of the spinal cord, symptoms such as pain, tingling, numbness or weakness within the muscle group innervated by the affected nerve can arise. This can occur at any level of the spine, and the classification of spinal stenosis generally is based on its location (cervical, thoracic or lumbar spine), its cause or the anatomical component involved:

  • Congenital stenosis – narrowing as a result of an inherited defective condition
  • Degenerative stenosis – narrowing as a result of a condition such as osteoarthritis or degenerative disc disease
  • Foraminal stenosis – narrowing of the intervertebral foramina, where the nerve roots exit the spinal canal
  • Lateral recess stenosis – narrowing within the tract where the nerve roots exit the spinal canal and thread toward the foramina
  • Central canal stenosis – narrowing within the central spinal canal, which houses the spinal cord and the horsetail-shaped bundle of nerves known as the cauda equina

Treatment for spinal narrowing

Exercise and stretching are two of the primary conservative methods of treatment recommended by physicians for treating spinal stenosis. The objective is to reduce pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots by opening the affected area or areas. Conservative treatment is usually very effective for managing symptoms associated with spinal narrowing, but occasionally it’s not enough. If chronic pain persists after several weeks of conservative treatment, surgery may become an option. If so, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn more about our minimally invasive, outpatient procedures.