You might not recognize it as a spinal problem at first. Spinal stenosis can occur in your upper or lower back but can cause cramping, pain or numbness elsewhere. The most common sites beyond the back are your neck, legs, shoulders, and arms.
This condition can also cause symptoms like a loss of sensation in your extremities and, in some patients, can interfere with bladder or bowel function, according to the Mayo Clinic. For a reliable and long lasting treatment of your spinal problems, there is Spinal Surgery in New Jersey with best spinal and orthopedic doctors. You get affordable medical services that are really effective with spine problems.
In order to understand what causes this condition and how it develops, a basic understanding of the anatomy of the human spine is helpful.
Parts of the Spine
Vertebrae. Your spine has 24 of them stacked on top of each other. It also had a sacrum and a tailbone. Adults usually have seven neck – or cervical – vertebra. Twelve vertebrae are located at the back wall of your chest and are called thoracic vertebrae. The lumbar vertebrae are found at the inward curve of your lower back. Five fused vertebrae between the hip bones form the sacrum. Your tailbone is actually three to five fused bones located at the tip of your spine.
Ligaments. They’re tough bands of elastic tissue whose mission is to keep your vertebrae in place whenever you move.
Intervertebral disks. They separate your vertebrae and consist of elastic pads of cartilage. As a result, your spine is flexible. These disks function like shock absorbers for your vertebrae during motion. Each one has a center like jelly surrounded by a ring of fibrous tissue.
Facet joints. They’re found on the sides as well as the top and bottom of the vertebrae. They connect one vertebra to another and stabilize your spine while still keeping it somewhat flexible. These joints slide smoothly because they’re coated with a lubricant.
Spinal canal. It’s a channel through which the spinal cord passes in your spine. Various degenerative changes can make it too narrow for comfort.
Spinal cord. It’s actually a long bundle of nerves stretching from the brainstem at the bottom of your skull to your second lumbar vertebra, which is located in your lower back. Where the cord ends, another set of nerves called the cauda equine heads down the spinal canal. The nerves inside your spinal cord carry impulses between your brain and the rest of your body. There are 31 pairs of spinal nerves in your back and neck.
How stenosis develops
Doctors recognize two types of stenosis. Primary spinal stenosis is already present at birth. Most people have the other kind, acquired spinal stenosis, which sets in during the aging process.
The primary cause of degeneration in your spine is osteoarthritis. Over time, the cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones in your joints starts to break down, and its smooth surface turns rough. Eventually, you might experience the painful situation of having bone rubbing on bone. Your body sometimes compensates for this by growing bone spurs on the facet joints, which causes the narrowing of the spine.
Some of the other ways spinal stenosis develops include:
Herniated disks. Wear and tear can cause the tough covering of a disk to tear. The jelly-like material in the center can seep out. The disk then presses on the surrounding nerves.
Ligament changes. Over time, back ligaments can degenerate and become thick and stiff. This shortens the spine, narrows the spinal canal and compresses nerve roots. Sometimes one lumbar vertebra slips over another after wear and tear on discs and ligaments. The result is a compression of your spinal nerves and possible numbness, tingling, and weakness in your legs.
Spinal tumors. Tumors can occur inside your spinal cord, in the membranes covering it or in the space between the cord and a vertebra. They can also metastasize to the spinal area from other regions of the body. Tumors sometimes compress the spinal cord and nerve roots, causing pain in limbs and even paralysis. They can also affect the function of your bladder or bowels.
Injury. If an injury dislocates the spine or spinal canal, you will experience pressure on the cord and lower motor neurons. Bone fragments and tissue swelling following back surgery can also exert pressure.
Paget’s disease. This condition causes your body to make the new bone more quickly than normal. The resulting bones are soft, weak and sometimes deformed or too large. When this occurs in your spine, the bones can compress the spinal cord or the nerves leaving your brain or spinal cord. The resulting pain can be severe.
Achondroplasia. It’s a genetic disorder that slows bone formation during fetal development and early childhood. In addition to short stature, individuals with this condition have a narrow spinal canal, which exerts pressure on their spinal cords.
While stiffness is normal during the aging process, the discomfort that interferes with your mobility isn’t. If you experience pain, stiffness, numbness or weakness in your back, neck, shoulders or legs that you can’t trace to overexertion, seek medical advice.