Spinal stenosis is a condition that causes a narrowing of the spinal canal, which can compress the spinal nerves, resulting in pain. When this condition occurs in the lower back it is referred to as lumbar stenosis.
A narrowing of the spinal canal typically doesn’t cause symptoms unless it progresses to a point where it compresses the spinal cord, spinal nerves, or the cauda equina, which is a dense bundle of nerve roots that begins where the spinal cord ends in the upper lumbar region.
When compression happens, it may cause the following symptoms:
- Intermittent pain
- Chronic pain
- Numbness or weakness in the low back, buttocks, or legs
These symptoms are often mild or absent while sitting or sleeping, and are likely to increase when walking. As they increase, you may experience a cramping sensation with a tired or heavy feeling in the low back, buttocks, or upper thighs.
What causes lumbar stenosis?
Lumbar stenosis is most frequently caused by degenerative changes (osteoarthritis) in the lower back. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, degenerative changes of the spine are seen in up to 95% of people by the age of 50 with spinal stenosis occurring most often in adults over 60 years old.
After years of normal wear and tear, cushioning between bones in the spine may break down, allowing bones to wear against each other.
At these sites, the body produces growths called bone spurs that may narrow the spinal canal, causing pressure on the spinal nerves, or cauda equina.
Occasionally, large disc herniations and spinal tumors can narrow the spinal canal enough to cause compression. While it is rare, a small number of people are born with back problems that develop into lumbar stenosis over time. This condition is called congenital spinal stenosis.
Diagnosis and treatment
If lumbar stenosis or another back condition is suspected, your physician will ask questions about your medical history and the symptoms you are experiencing. He or she will then complete a physical exam that may require you to bend forward, backward and side-to-side. This will help identify any pain points or limitations.
Diagnostic imaging tests such as X-rays, a CT scan, MRI or myelogram, may be ordered to help your doctor confirm a diagnosis.
Depending on whether symptoms include pain or disability, lumbar stenosis may or may not require treatment.
Nonsurgical treatments may include modifying activities to reduce stress on the spine, physical therapy, medications or injections to reduce pain and inflammation, or wearing a brace.
In severe cases or those that are progressively worsening, surgery such as a laminectomy or spinal fusion may be performed to correct the condition.
Contact Pacific Spine Specialists
Pacific Spine Specialists is one of leading spine surgeon practices in the Portland area. Taking a holistic approach to caring for the spine and drawing on decades of experience, Dr. Keenen will only recommend surgery if it is the best option.
The team of healthcare professionals at Pacific Spine Specialists prides themselves on providing high-quality, personalized care for the treatment of a variety of spinal conditions including lumbar stenosis. To schedule a consultation, call (503) 885-9391 today.