Along the vertebrae cord, nerves exit the spine and extend to the rest of the body. Together, these perform two important functions for the body.
First, nerves pass messages from the body to the brain. The sensations we feel, including pain, pressure, vibration, and other sensations, are detected and passed through these nerves, up the spinal cord, and to our brain.
Nerves also send messages the other direction, from the brain to the body. These messages direct muscle functions, both voluntary and involuntary.
The signals help us perform all functions from walking to breathing. In patients with spinal stenosis, these nerves can become compressed, either within the vertebrae cord, or as the backbone nerves exit the cord.
Compression leads to the common symptoms experienced by patients who have spinal stenosis. When they are compressed, abnormal signals are sent to and from the brain, or sometimes the signals do not get past the area of compression.
Therefore, patients may experience pain, numbness or weakness. The condition affects men and women equally, and most often is seen in people over the age of 50.
People who have careers that are labor intensive are more prone to developing symptoms of spinal stenosis. The most common cause of the condition is arthritis of the spine, and it is uncommon to find this condition in individuals younger than 30 years old.
When spinal stenosis does occur in younger patients, it is often related to traumatic injury to the vertebral column. The condition may be caused by a wide variety of conditions, all of which lead to a narrowing of the vertebrae canal.
These conditions may be either acquired or inherited. The condition is most often caused from spine arthritis, a process that causes arthritic changes in the spine leading to compression.
Common changes of vertebrae arthritis include the formation of bone spurs, calcification of vertebrae ligaments, thickening of joint tissue due to chronic inflammation, and degeneration of the vertebrae disc. All of these changes narrow the space around the nerves, eventually leading to compression.
Spinal stenosis can cause a wide variety of symptoms throughout the body. The most common symptoms are pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness.
If the area of narrowing of the spine is in the neck region, the symptoms are felt in the arms. If the area of narrowing is in the low back the symptoms are felt in the legs.
Making the diagnosis of the condition involves a complete evaluation of the spine. Imaging studies are often used to determine the extent and location of the compression.
The medical history is the most important aspect of the examination. This will tell your doctor about your symptoms, possible causes for your condition, and other possible causes of back pain.
Some important factors that should be investigated are any areas of sensory abnormalities or numbness, the nature of your reflexes, and any muscular weakness. An x-ray will show your doctor the bones of your spine.
The x-ray is helpful is looking for causes of spinal stenosis including tumors, traumatic injury, backbone arthritis or inherited abnormalities. The myelogram is an x-ray, but with a dye injected into the vertebrae fluid around the vertebrae cord and nerves.
The dye shows up on x-rays around these unless there is no space surrounding the nerves. These can be very useful in some situations where patients may be unable to have an MRI.
A CT scan is also similar to an x-ray, but provides a better degree of differentiation of tissues in your body. CT scans, often called CAT scans, provide your doctor with a better view of areas of compression within the vertebrae canal.
The MRI has become the most frequently used study to diagnose spinal stenosis. The MRI uses magnetic signals to produce images of the spine.
A bone scan is not a test that will detect the condition, but it can be helpful to look for problems that may be related to spinal stenosis. A bone scan is performed by injecting radioactive material into a vein; this material is attracted to areas of high bone activity.
Tom Selwick has been involved with medicine for over 20 years. He specializes in spinal recovery medicine and recommends this Utah Chiropractor for all your back needs.