The word stenosis comes from the Greek word meaning “choking,” which is an apt way to describe the underlying cause of lumbar spinal stenosis: The spinal canal and neural foramina—the passages that contain your spinal cord and exiting nerves—are narrowing, which constricts (or chokes) that bundle of nerves.
Technically, there are different types of lumbar spinal stenosis: The canal itself might become narrow, compressing the nerve bundle and therefore affecting multiple nerves; or an individual nerve root emerging from the canal may be pressed on or otherwise trapped for some reason. Either way, the natural space that is usually afforded to these spinal components is somehow being made smaller.
Lumbar spinal stenosis is a fairly common problem, but the only way to really know if it’s the cause of your low back or leg pain is with a doctor’s diagnosis and an MRI. There are, however, some classic lumbar spinal stenosis symptoms that are strong indicators of the condition; take a look at them below. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, check in with your doctor. He or she can help determine whether stenosis is, in fact, the cause of your pain, and advise you on next steps.
What are the symptoms of spinal stenosis? These 4 are the most common characteristics:
- You can walk only short distances. You have little to no pain while seated or lying down, but you have difficulty rising from a chair after you’ve been sitting for a while. It’s also difficult to start walking when you rise; there’s usually a hesitation in your gait, where your feet don’t move as quickly. Once you start walking, depending on the severity of your stenosis, your legs begin to have pain and feel fatigued. Some people can walk a block or two before they have to stop and sit down; those with severe stenosis may not make it to the end of their driveway. Once you sit for a minute or two, you can get back up and go, but eventually you wear out again and have to stop.
- You have a forward-leaning posture. Many patients say their spouses have commented that they lean forward when they walk. People with stenosis tend to lean on walkers or grocery store carts when they visit supermarkets or big-box stores, for example.
- Your balance is off. Stenosis creates balance challenges. To compensate, you take wider steps and tend to shuffle when you walk.
- You have pain, tingling, or numbness down the back or in one or both legs. Usually one leg is worse than the other.
As you can see, the symptoms of lumbar spinal stenosis tend to center around a loss of function rather than a pain pattern. Why is that? Because standing and walking in perfect balance requires proper functioning of the nerves, which control things. When those nerves get overly compressed, or stenotic, they don’t react the way they should. The result is what’s called neurogenic claudication—a neurological reaction to compression of the nerve roots. Straightening up pinches the nerve even more, which is the reason stenosis patients feel the need to continually lean forward at the waist.
Stenosis is easier to treat before it gets too severe. As soon as symptoms like these begin to impede your normal activities, visit a doctor for an MRI.
Treating Lumbar Spinal Stenosis
Lumbar spinal stenosis won’t go away without surgery, but for many patients, conservative treatment options can sufficiently manage and relieve the symptoms. Some conservative treatments for this condition include:
- Anti-inflammatories, which may be useful for reducing swelling and pain.
- Epidural steroid injections, which can be helpful in the early stages of stenosis but become less effective over time.
- Therapy, which may provide only temporary relief, because stenosis is an anatomical problem. Therapy for stenosis is often less effective than it would be for other medical conditions.
People with more advanced lumbar spinal stenosis may opt for surgery if the condition is interfering with their life.
Have you been advised to have surgery for your lumbar spinal stenosis? If so, learn about an innovative new treatment that may be right for you.
Surgical Treatment For Lumbar Spinal Stenosis
Surgery for lumbar spinal stenosis usually involves decompression to remove or address the offending material that is choking, squeezing, or pinching the spinal cord. Once the material is removed, the surgeon will assess the stability of the spine. In some cases, by removing the bone or disc material, the surgeon may create spinal instability. If that happens, additional action will need to be taken to restabilize the spine.
In the past, the only option for restabilization was fusion. One of the problems with fusion is that taking away the mobility of even a single level in your spine places added stress on the adjacent levels, both above and below the fused location. This often leads to rapid degeneration of one or both levels, which means you’ll likely need another fusion surgery down the road.
Today, there’s another option: BalancedBack Total Lumbar Arthroplasty. Rather than removing a joint, BalancedBack replaces a joint. That replacement enables patients to retain their range of movement, minimizing stress on adjacent motion levels.
Also, BalancedBack uses a posterior approach (from the back), which is safer than surgeries that use an anterior or frontal approach (frontal approaches require surgeons to cut through, around, or near several vital organs to reach the spine). Direct decompression is impossible from the anterior or frontal approach, because stenosis is in the back. Only BalancedBack allows for complete decompression to unpinch the nerves and relieve stenosis, while restabilizing your spine and restoring your natural range of movement and spinal balance.
Would you like to know more about BalancedBack?
If your doctor has recommended surgery for your lumbar spinal stenosis symptoms, visit our website to see whether you’re a good candidate for BalancedBack. We’ll answer any questions you have about the procedure, the BalancedBack device, and the surgical experience.