What is Lumbar Spinal Stenosis?
You are having a bundle of nerves called spinal cord that regulates through a tunnel made by your vertebrae. The tunnel is referred to as the spinal canal.
Lumbar spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower part of your back. Stenosis that means narrowing can further cause pressure on your spinal cord or the nerves that go from your spinal cord to your muscles.
Spinal stenosis can occur in any part of your spine but is most common in the lower back. This portion of your spine is called your lumbar area. Five lumbar vertebrae join your upper spine to your pelvis.
If you are having lumbar spinal stenosis, you may have trouble walking distances or find that you need to lean forward to lower down pressure on your lower back. You can also have pain or numbness in your legs.
In more of the severe cases, you can have difficulty in controlling your bowel and bladder. There is still no cure available for lumbar spinal stenosis, but you have many treatment choices.
What causes lumbar spinal stenosis?
One of the most common causes of spinal stenosis is osteoarthritis, the gradual wear and tear that happens to your joints over time.
Spinal stenosis is common because osteoarthritis begins to cause changes in most people’s spines by age 50. That's why most people who develop symptoms of spinal stenosis are 50 or older. Women tend to have a higher risk of developing spinal stenosis than men.
Besides osteoarthritis, other conditions or circumstances can cause spinal stenosis:
- Narrow spinal canal
- Injury to the spine
- Spinal tumor
- Certain bone diseases
- Past surgery of the spine
- Rheumatoid arthritis
How is lumbar spinal stenosis diagnosed?
To diagnose lumbar spinal stenosis, your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms and do a complete physical exam. At the time of the physical exam, your doctor will look for signs of spinal stenosis, like the loss of sensation, weakness, and abnormal reflexes.
These tests help make a diagnosis:
- X-rays of your lumbar spine - These may depict bone growths called spurs that push on spinal nerves or narrowing of the spinal canal.
- Imaging tests - A CT scan or MRI scan can give a more detailed look at the spinal canal and nerve structures.
- Other studies - Your doctor might order a bone scan, myelogram (a CT taken after injecting dye), and EMG (an electrical test of muscle activity).
How is lumbar spinal stenosis treated?
If you are having lumbar spinal stenosis, different specialties of doctors can help you, like arthritis specialists, nerve specialists, surgeons, and physical therapists.
Treatment can involve physical therapy, medicine, and sometimes surgery. Except in emergencies, like cauda equina syndrome, surgery is usually the last option.
- Physical therapy may include exercises to strengthen your back, stomach, and leg muscles. Learning how to do activities safely, using braces to support your back, stretching, and massage may also be helpful.
- Medicines may include non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory medicines that relieve pain and swelling, and steroid injections that reduce swelling.
- Surgical treatments include removing bone spurs and widening the space between vertebrae. The lower back may also be stabilized by fusing together some of the vertebrae.
- Acupuncture and chiropractic care may also be helpful for some people.