Spinal stenosis is one of the most common terms used in health care related to spine conditions. Patients often turn to spine surgery centers already knowing that their condition is spinal stenosis, and many times having extensively researched spinal stenosis prior to contacting a spine center. Many of those who turn to laser spine facilities do so to receive an initial medical consultation. Patients also may seek out minimally invasive surgery because they are looking for alternatives after being told that highly invasive open back surgery is their only option. Read how patients from all over the world have turned to minimally invasive spine surgery and found relief for spinal stenosis symptoms through these effective procedures.
What is spinal stenosis?
Understanding spinal stenosis begins with the definition of spinal stenosis. “Stenosis” is a Greek word that means “narrowing or constricting space,” a condition that can occur in any tubular structure in the body. Spinal stenosis occurs in the spinal column, where the spinal cord, nerve roots and vertebrae are located. Simply stated, spinal stenosis is the constricting or narrowing of the spinal canal.
Types of spinal stenosis
There are two types of spinal stenosis that affect the human spine and which Laser Spine Institute treats; they are lumbar spinal stenosis and cervical spinal stenosis. The lumbar region is the lower part of the spine and is the most common area where spinal stenosis occurs. Cervical spinal stenosis resides in the neck region of the spine. While different in name and location, both types of spinal stenosis affect the body in a similar manner.
Components of the spine
The spine is a very complex system made up of many different parts that all come together to allow humans to walk upright, bend and twist. In addition, like a cylinder of armor, the components of the spine protect the spinal cord from injury.
Anatomical components of the spine that may be involved in, or affected by, spinal stenosis include:
- Intervertebral discs – pads of cartilage filled with a gel-like substance which lie between vertebrae and act as shock absorbers.
- Spinal cord/nerve roots – a major part of the central nervous system that extends from the base of the brain down to the lower back and that is encased by the vertebral column. It consists of nerve cells and bundles of nerves. The cord connects the brain to all parts of the body via 31 pairs of nerve roots that branch out from the cord and leave the spine through spaces in between vertebrae.
- Facet joints – joints located on the back of the vertebrae. They are formed by a portion of one vertebra and the vertebra above it. They connect the vertebrae to each other and permit backward motion.
- Synovium – a thin membrane that produces fluid to lubricate the facet joints, allowing them to move easily.
- Intervertebral foramen (also called neural foramen) – openings between vertebrae through which nerve roots leave the spine and extend to other parts of the body. See foraminal stenosis
- Lamina – part of the vertebra at the back portion of the vertebral arch that forms the roof of the canal through which the spinal cord passes.
- Pedicles – narrow stem-like structures on the vertebrae that form the walls of the front part of the vertebral arch.
- Vertebral arch – a circle of bone around the canal through which the spinal cord passes. It is composed of a floor at the back of the vertebra, walls (the pedicles), and a ceiling where two laminae join.
- Ligaments – elastic bands of tissue that support the spine by preventing the vertebrae from slipping out of line as the spine moves. A large ligament often involved in spinal stenosis is the ligamentum flavum, which runs as a continuous band from lamina to lamina in the spine.
- Cauda equina – a sack of nerve roots that continues from the lumbar region, where the spinal cord ends, and branches down to provide neurologic function to the lower part of the body. It resembles a “horse’s tail” (“cauda equina” in Latin).
Reference NIAMS – National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disorders
Who gets spinal stenosis?
Spinal stenosis is either acquired or inherited. Those who inherit spinal stenosis, by nature, have a small spinal canal at birth that may become narrower with age. On the other hand, when spinal stenosis is acquired, in most cases, it begins slowly due to normal, age-related degeneration and develops over years. As time passes, the spaces between the nerve roots, spinal cord and vertebrae are reduced. Typically, the narrowing of the spinal canal is a result of abnormal bone or tissue growth (sometimes both). Please see our causes page for more details.
Examples of situations that might contribute to “narrowing” include:
- Discs between vertebrae and bones are forced back against the spinal cord
- Ligaments which connect the spine become larger
- Bone spurs or osteophytes grow on vertebrae and push on the spinal cord or nerve roots, causing irritation
Figure 1 is a top section view of a normal spinal canal; notice the space difference in the spinal canal in Figure 1 as compared to Figure 2. As the space gets tighter nerves and the spinal cord are affected.
When spinal stenosis occurs, nerve roots that branch out from the spine — and sometimes even the spinal cord itself — are squeezed, which can irritate the nervous system. Once this happens, spinal stenosis patients may feel pain, numbness or weakness in various parts of the body, depending on the location of spinal stenosis. The types of this condition most commonly referred to are: lumbar spinal stenosis, occurring in the lower back, and cervical spinal stenosis, which occurs in the neck. As mentioned previously, the condition more commonly occurs in the lower back. See cervical spinal stenosis for more information on how spinal stenosis can affect the neck, and lumbar spinal stenosis for information on having the condition in the lower back.
How Laser Spine Institute can help patients with spinal stenosis
If it has been determined that you have spinal stenosis, and you are tired of living in pain, we strongly recommend that you visit our page on the treatment of spinal stenosis to see how our minimally invasive procedures can help you get your life back.
How you can protect yourself from Spinal Stenosis
As with many other spine conditions, good common sense can go a long way in preventing spinal stenosis. For example, consider implementing the following habits into your daily life:
- Regular exercise
- Healthy diet
- Comfortable sleep
- Good posture
How can these lifestyle changes help you prevent spinal stenosis? Regular exercise, swimming, yoga and Pilates help develop core strength, allowing you to maintain strength and flexibility in the components that make up your spine. That, matched with a healthy diet, ideal weight and proper nourishment, is the key to maintaining a healthy spine. In addition, sleeping on a bed that properly supports the spine, as well as practicing good posture and lifting mechanics, can help you avoid and reduce spine-related injuries.
Safe practices at home and the workplace can help you avoid injuries of all kinds. When it comes to injuries to your back, there are certain activities you should try and avoid, or take precautions against. Visit our section on the causes of spinal stenosis to learn more about how to avoid developing this painful condition.
If you think you show signs of the condition, or would like to confirm your suspicions that you may have spinal stenosis, we recommend visiting our symptoms page. Here you can see if you have one or more of the common symptoms shared by most people with the condition.
If you still have questions, you can visit our FAQ page, where we answer some of the most frequently asked questions received from visitors to our website. If you still have questions after going through the FAQs and need to find out more about your condition or how we can help you, please feel free to contact us.