Lumbar spinal stenosis is a process that narrows the spinal canal causing pressure on the nerves. Learning to live with spinal stenosis pain begins with educating yourself about the symptoms, causes and treatment options.
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Is laser spinal surgery right for you? Would cervical disc replacement help you? Is lumbar disc replacement an option? Understanding what is causing your pain can help you decide.
"understand your symptoms"
When you understand your symptoms and what is causing them, you become aware of what you do, and how it affects your symptoms. You learn to avoid things that make your symptoms worse.
"such as spinal stenosis laser surgery and disc replacement surgery"
When you understand the different spinal stenosis treatment alternatives, such as spinal stenosis laser surgery and disc replacement surgery, and how they work to relieve your symptoms. You can understand the risks, benefits, and possible side effects of each available treatment. You become informed, educated, and involved in the treatment decisions affecting your life.
Lumbar spinal stenosis is generally caused by some combination of three different things, arthritis in your lumbar spine, ligamentous hypertrophy, and a bulging disc. In most cases the biggest problem is the arthritis and the ligament overgrowth, but many people have a bulging disc as well.
As arthritis in the lumbar spine gets worse, bone spurs grow into the space for the nerves and eventually begin squeezing the nerves. Arthritis may also develop into spondylosis, which means that the little joints at the back of your spine have become fused, causing pain and stiffness.
"ligaments may become thick and overgrown"
Inside of the spinal canal there are long flat ligaments that run the entire length of the spine,
connecting all of the vertebrae together. With a lifetime of lifting and bending these ligaments may become thick and overgrown, taking more space from the nerves.
Between each vertebra are the intervertebral discs. These discs are made up of a tough ligament around the outside connecting the vertebra together, and a softer center. The discs act like a shock absorber in between each vertebra. With a lifetime of bad posture and slouching forward the soft center can move toward the rear and cause a bulging disc. When a disc bulges into the spinal canal it leaves less room for the nerves.
"Lumbar spinal stenosis may also be complicated by"
Lumbar spinal stenosis may also be complicated by chronic back pain from degenerative disc disease and spondylolisthesis. These two conditions may also put pressure on the nerves because of the way your spine is designed. The foramen or opening where the nerves leave the spinal canal is between the vertebrae, with half of the hole in the top vertebra, and half of the hole in the bottom vertebra.
In a spondylolisthesis, where one vertebra is slipped forward, the nerve can be pinched; when the top half of the hole moves across the bottom half of the hole. In degenerative disc disease, the disc that is between the vertebrae collapses and gets thinner bringing the top half of the hole closer to the bottom half, making the hole smaller and putting pressure on the nerve.
"depends on exactly which nerves are being squeezed"
The exact combination of symptoms that you may experience when you have lumbar spinal stenosis, which is often complicated by degenerative disc disease and/or spondylolisthesis, depends on exactly which nerves are being squeezed and at which level the stenosis is occurring. Often people will have stenosis at multiple levels.
Early in the disease you may have low back pain from the arthritis. As the arthritis gets worse it may begin radiating into one or both buttocks, then into your thighs. Lumbar spinal stenosis is one of the
most common causes of sciatica. As your symptoms get worse the pain may radiate into the calf and foot, and you may develop numbness and weakness in your legs.
"alert for any symptoms of cauda equina syndrome"
If you have low back pain and sciatica, you should be alert for any symptoms of cauda equina syndrome. Cauda equina syndrome is a possible complication of lumbar spinal stenosis that causes rapidly progressive weakness and/or problems with your bowels or bladder.
If you are having any of these symptoms, and notice that your legs have gotten suddenly weaker, or you begin having problems controlling your bowels or bladder, you should see a doctor immediately. This is a sign of damage to the nerves that may be permanent, if not treated immediately.