Spinal stenosis simply means narrowing of the spinal canal. Stenosis can be used, generically, simply to mean narrowing of any area, but when doctors use this term as a diagnosis, we mean narrowing of the central spinal canal, where the spinal cord and spinal nerve roots reside.
Some people are born with a smaller, narrower canal, and some people’s spinal canal gets smaller as the age, because degenerative changes cause enlargement of various tissues which then encroach upon the space for the spinal cord or nerve roots. This may cause pain and/or loss of function of the arms or legs.
Spinal stenosis in the neck is a more serious potential problem than stenosis in the low back. The reason is that the spinal cord is only present in the neck. The spinal cord stops at the top part of the low back. So stenosis in the neck will jeopardize the spinal cord, while stenosis in the low back will only jeopardize the nerves in the low back. That is not meant to minimize the potential problems from stenosis in the low back. But stenosis in the neck can be catastrophic.
Usually only spine specialists are mindful of the critical importance of identifying neck stenosis and the threat to the spinal cord in this region. What may surprise many patients and doctors is that neck stenosis and spinal cord injury and degeneration can be a painless, hence, unnoticed condition for patients. In fact, many patients refuse surgery for neck stenosis, even while they become progressively disabled by their spinal cord damage.
Spinal cord damage from neck stenosis, can include uncoordinated walking, loss of finger dexterity, urinary incontinence, and certain, identifiable reflex changes that the doctor can check, if he knows about this. Usually, only specialists like neurosurgeons and neurologists will check this. I am exceptional in this regard because of my clinical experience in orthopedics, physiatry and neurosurgery.
The more common spinal stenosis happens in the low back. And everyone has seen people with this problem. These people are usually bent over, because this provides some relief of the typical pain in both buttocks and the back of both thighs. They get relief by sitting down, and standing and walking, upright, are provocative of pain. They may also lean on shopping carts to get relief.
Low back spinal stenosis can be painful and disabling, but it is not potentially catastrophic like it is in the neck.
If I can help you with your spinal stenosis, please call me at 404-558-4015.