How to define spinal stenosis

In order to properly define spinal stenosis, one must first gain an understanding of the spinal anatomy. The spine is composed of stacked vertebrae, which are cushioned by sponge-like discs between vertebrae and connected by cartilage-lined synovial joints known as facet joints. The stacked vertebrae form a central spinal canal, through which the spinal cord runs vertically. Pairs of nerve roots branch off the spinal cord at intervals, carrying motor and sensory signals to and from the rest of the body. All of these anatomical components, when healthy, work in accord to allow movement and provide support for the upper body.

As wear-and-tear and age take their toll on the spine, the spaces allotted the spinal cord and the nerve roots can become constricted. This reduction in space is known as spinal stenosis.

What causes spinal stenosis?

It is relatively simple to define more specific causes of spinal stenosis other than age, and diagnosis often requires nothing more than an X-ray, an MRI or CT scan. As mentioned, these conditions typically are associated with common degenerative changes that infringe on the spinal canal or the openings (foramina) through which the nerve roots pass. The underlying causes of spinal stenosis may include:

  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Spinal osteoarthritis
  • Bulging discs
  • Herniated discs
  • Ligament ossification
  • Osteophytes (bone spurs)
  • Spondylolisthesis (vertebral slippage)
  • Spinal tumors

Potential symptoms of spinal stenosis

Less simple to define than the causes of spinal stenosis are its potential symptoms. Spinal stenosis can be asymptomatic and cause no noticeable symptoms for many patients, and may only be diagnosed when another condition occurs. Nerve root compression caused by spinal narrowing can give rise to neck or back pain, as well as pain, tingling, numbness and/or muscle weakness in the extremities. Spinal cord compression caused by a reduction in space within the spinal canal is potentially more serious; it can cause paralysis in the lower body or become life threatening and should receive immediate medical attention — this condition is specifically called severe spinal stenosis.

If you are diagnosed with spinal stenosis and are wondering about treatment options, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn about the benefits of our minimally invasive, outpatient procedures that are safer and effective alternatives to open spine surgery. We will review* your MRI report at no cost and determine if you are a candidate for our procedures.

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