Spinal Stenosis


You’re probably aware that certain joints in your body can wear out over time. But did you know your spine is also prone to damage after years of wear-and-tear? Some people, especially those over 50, develop a condition called spinal stenosis, which occurs when your spinal canal begins to narrow.

If you have pain in your neck or back, along with tingling, numbness or weakness in your legs or arms, it may be time to talk to your doctor. If left untreated, symptoms of spinal stenosis often get worse – and can lead to complications such as bladder or bowel incontinence.

Understanding Spinal Stenosis

Your spine is a complex structure containing bones, tissues and nerves, including:

  • 33 stacked bones called vertebrae.
  • 23 rubbery, fluid-filled spinal discs.
  • Ligaments that bind your vertebrae together.

Your vertebrae have a hole in the center, creating a passage called the spinal canal. Your spinal cord runs through the spinal canal. Extra nerves branch off the spinal cord and travel to your arms and legs.

Restricted space inside your spinal canal may cause compression of your spinal cord and nerves. This can happen for several reasons, including:

  • Bone spurs often develop in people with arthritis. They can grow into the spinal canal and pinch your nerves.
  • Your spinal discs can dry out and crack, resulting in a herniated disc. The jelly in the center of your discs can spill out of these cracks and press against your nerves.
  • The ligaments that bind your spine may thicken and protrude into the spinal canal.

Spinal stenosis can also develop after an injury. If you damage one of your vertebrae, the broken or displaced bone can push into your spinal canal.

Symptoms vary, depending on where the spinal canal is constricted:

  • If you have narrowing in your neck (cervical stenosis), you may have neck pain along with tingling or weakness in your arm, hand, leg or foot. Sometimes the nerves responsible for bladder, bowel or sexual function are also compressed.
  • If there is narrowing in your lower back (lumbar stenosis), you may have low back pain along with leg pain and cramping. Pain is often worse when you walk or stand.

Spinal Stenosis Treatment at Mercy

Whether your symptoms are mild or your severe pain makes it hard to walk, Mercy’s specialists can help. Treatments include:

  • Medications that relieve pain or prevent muscle spasms.
  • Cortisone injections to reduce inflammation.
  • Orthopedic rehabilitation to improve spine flexibility and stability, strengthen your muscles and maintain balance.

Surgery may be used when other treatments have failed. Our doctors perform a variety of surgical procedures that widen the spinal canal, including laminectomy and laminotomy.

If you’re concerned about your spinal stenosis symptoms, talk to your Mercy physician. Together we’ll create a treatment plan that improves your pain, mobility and quality of life.

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