What is Lumbar Stenosis?
Lumbar Spine Stenosis is a condition that affects lower back. It occurs when the spaces within the spine narrow and irritate the nerves in the spinal cord, causing pain, weakness or numbness, most often in the lower body – buttocks, legs and feet. The work ‘stenosis’ comes from Greek and it means ‘choking’. When a bone or tissue grow in the openings in the spine, they ‘choke’ the nerves and put pressure on them. Patients with lumbar stenosis often describe a numbing pain that worsens with walking.
What causes it?
Developing lumbar stenosis is often associated with aging and degenerative osteoarthritis. Facet joints may grow with time and compress the nerves within the spinal cord, causing lumbar stenosis. In fewer cases, spinal stenosis may also affect younger people, e.g. as a result of spine injury.
In general, the causes of lumbar stenosis can involve the following:
- Bone overgrowth – The formation of bone spurs is prompted by damage of the spine bones caused by osteoarthritis
- Herniated disc – A damaged disc may leak which can cause the nudeus (the fluid within the disc) to press on the nerves and cause pain in the lower back
- Thickened ligaments – The cords that hold the spine together may thicken and become stiff with time and therefore irritate the nerves within the spine
- Spinal injuries1
The diagnosis of lumbar stenosis typically involves:
- an interview with the patient, during which the doctor will ask you to describe your symptoms. You will be asked questions such as: where do you experience the pain the most, when did you first started to feel the symptoms, have you had any back issues/conditions before, have you ever had any spinal injuries, etc.
- a physical examination – the doctor will check the range of motion, areas of tenderness, etc.
- an MRI scan or a CT scan
In most cases, the symptoms become less severe or stop altogether as soon as the patient gets some rest. Pain medicine, proper exercise and physical therapy prove very beneficial in case of lumbar stenosis. However, if the symptoms worsen with time and make it impossible for the patient to function normally, your doctor may prescribe spinal shots of corticosteroid (epidural injections), a medicine that reduces inflammation. It is also possible to remove the bone overgrowth that pressures the spinal nerves surgically but it depends on where is it located and how much does it affect the patient. Make sure to talk to our orthopedic specialist Dr. Matthew Hepler about your options.