What is Spinal Stenosis?

Spinal stenosis is narrowing of the spinal canal.  This may be inherited, that is you were born with a small canal, or acquired, the spinal canal became smaller over time from degeneration, that is bulging discs, bone spurs and thickened ligaments.

As people age, the neck begins to “wear out”.  This begins with the drying out and collapse of the cervical discs.  This collapsed disc changes the forces across the spine and results in abnormal motion.  To stop this motion the body strengthens the neck by thickening the spinal ligaments and stabilizing the mobile joints with bone spurs.  This is especially seen behind the vertebral bodies, around the facet joints located at the side of the spine and in the ligamentum flavum (yellow ligament) at the back of the spinal canal.   These changes lead to decrease in the size of the spinal canal and may result in spinal cord compression.

Spinal stenosis may cause spinal cord injury and dysfunction called myelopathy. This may be due to compression, abnormal spinal motion or poor blood supply.   Myelopathy commonly presents in older people with neck pain, clumsy hands and difficulty walking.   This may be associated with pain, numbness, tingling, weakness, coordination problems (doing up buttons, fastening bra and eating), arm and leg stiffness, and bladder and bowel dysfunction.   People must rush to the bathroom to prevent incontinence.   Head movements may cause electrical shocks to shoot down their spine.   At times people may show slow decline in mobility:  from a cane to walker to wheelchair.  Very rarely, spinal stenosis can cause paralysis.