Lower back pain is one of the most common causes of doctor visits in the U.S. with an estimated 80 to 90% of adults in the U.S experiencing some form of it in their lifetime. While some back pain is resolved with proper rest and exercise, other causes may be more complicated and require a more comprehensive treatment plan. Spinal stenosis is one such type of back pain. If you’re suffering from lower back pain that you also feel in your arms and legs, and that gets worse when standing, you may be suffering from spinal stenosis.
What is spinal stenosis?
Spinal stenosis is compression of the spinal cord caused by a narrowing of the spinal column. This causes spinal stenosis, as shown in the diagram below. This can result in extraordinary, debilitating pain that is unrelieved for any long period of time. This condition is characterized by pain that gets worse after long periods of standing or walking, but feels better after sitting. It can also result in weakness, pain, tingling, or numbness in the hands or legs.
What is spinal stenosis anatomy?
The spine is a complex structure of bone, muscle, ligaments, tendons, and nerves. The bones of the spine, called vertebrae, provide the scaffolding for the rest of the spinal structures. Everything else is attached to or protected by the vertebrae.
Each vertebrae has three parts. A round, drum-shaped part provides most of the stability. Facing outward from the back are the protruding parts that help hold muscles; these are the little bumps visible on some people’s backs. In the center of the vertebrae is an arch-shaped bone. The vertebrae are stacked on top of each other, so these arch-shaped areas form a canal that protects the spine’s nerves. This bundle of nerves, called the spinal cord, is responsible for carrying information from the rest of the body to the brain and vice versa.
The 33 vertebrae in the spine are stacked in such a way to protect and enclose the delicate, sensitive spinal cord. When injury or age afflicts the lumbar area of the spine in the lower back, the vertebrae may weaken, collapse, or otherwise compress the spinal cord, as well as the peripheral nerves that branch off of the spinal cord.
How is spinal stenosis diagnosed?
Spinal stenosis can be difficult to diagnose, and as such, it can be difficult to treat correctly without an appropriate diagnosis. After a medical history and physical examination are done, Mayo Clinic notes that imaging tests can be used to help pinpoint and diagnose the true cause of your symptoms. These tests include:
- MRIs, the imaging test of choice
- CT myelogram, another option if you can’t have an MRI
What is cervical spinal stenosis?
Spinal stenosis can also be present in the cervical spine. This is the upper portion of your spine that supports your neck and head. Cervical spinal stenosis refers only to the location of your stenosis. The diagram below shows the different portions of the spine.
What is lumbar spinal stenosis?
Likewise, lumbar spinal stenosis refers to a narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower portion, or lumbar, spine. If you think you suffer from lumbar spinal stenosis, it’s even more important to get a good diagnosis to ensure it’s not a more serious condition. As Spine-Health.com explains:
“Lumbar spinal stenosis often mimics symptoms of va