Primarily a condition resulting from the aging process, lumbar (lower back) spinal stenosis causes a narrowing of the spinal canal. Ligaments become thicker and sometimes, bone spurs form, pushing on nerves which branch out from the spinal cord. As these processes occur, the discs can be pressed into the spinal canal.
Weakness, numbness and pain manifest in the lower body, perhaps as far as the feet.
It’s often the case that lumbar spinal stenosis is asymptomatic. But the following symptoms may also present:
- Cramping, weakness, numbness or pain in the lower body
- Walking, standing and leaning backwards exacerbates the pin
- Pain improves when sitting or leaning forward
- Stiffness in the thighs and legs
- Pain in the lower back
- The loss of bowel/bladder control (only in serious cases)
Intensity of symptoms varies from person to person and, as stated above, there may be no symptoms at all.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Visit your doctor to get diagnosed. You’ll be interviewed by your doctor about your medical history and current symptoms.
An initial physical exam will be performed, accompanied by imaging diagnostics like X-Rays, CT scans and MRIs.
Lumbar spinal stenosis can often be treated by changing behaviors (adding exercise and/or physical therapy).
Pain medications may be prescribed and, depending on pain intensity, you may be given a corticosteroid injection to reduce inflammation.
Some people are at much higher risk for lumbar spinal stenosis than others. Are you in these risk zones?
- People older than 50
- A medical history which includes injury to the spine
- People with spinal arthritis
- Have a bone disease which may either cause bones to become soft or to develop calcium deposits. These diseases include Paget’s, ankylosing spondylitis, spondylolysis, scoliosis or a genetic disorder which inhibits bone growth in the extremities and provokes abnormal development of the spine (achondroplastic dwarfism)
- A history which includes surgery on the lower back. This may cause scar tissue formation, which can press on adjacent nerves
- Progressive spinal stenosis, in which the narrowing of the spinal canal advances. This may occur even following a successful surgical intervention.
Surgery a Last Resort
Before recommending surgery, your doctor will prescribe conservative options, as enumerated above.
But in the event that your pain and weakness have become unbearable, making it impossible for you to pursue routine daily activities, surgery may be indicated.
If you’re a patient who’s run through conservative options and find that you’re still in pain after several months, you may be a candidate for surgery.
If you’ve noted a deterioration in your ability to walk steadily or find that your movement is clumsy, surgery may be recommended.
While conditions of the back like lumbar spinal stenosis can’t always be prevented, regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight and practicing good posture are all practices which can help.
If you smoke, quitting is entirely in order as a preventative measure.
Spine Consult NJ
At Spine Consult NJ, we’re a team working with a network of health professionals to offer full spectrum care for all conditions of the spine.