The Bigger Picture of Spinal Stenosis
Spinal stenosis describes the phenomenon of a narrowing in the spinal canal. The spinal canal can be narrowed in a number of different ways, such as an intervertebral disc that has bulged into the canal or a bone spur that is growing into limited canal space. Often spinal narrowing is asymptomatic, but spinal stenosis can cause symptoms of pain, stiffness, numbness, tingling, muscle weakness, muscle spasms, and other discomfort. The spinal canal most often narrows in the lower back, although it can narrow almost anywhere along the spine.
How Does the Spinal Canal Narrow?
The spinal canal is the area of the spine that houses the spinal cord, and there are smaller canals on each side called foramina that provide space for nerve roots to branch off the spinal cord and travel to other areas of the body. The most painful symptoms are felt when bone or other tissue constricts the spinal canal and presses on the spinal cord or a nerve root. Think of spinal stenosis as an arm in the sleeve of a shirt. Normally there is a comfortable distance between the arm and the sleeve. An increase in arm muscle can increase the size of the arm and constrict the space between the arm and the sleeve. Similarly, an increase in arm fat can also increase the size of the arm and constrict space between the arm and the sleeve. The end result, though, remains the same - less space between the arm and the sleeve. This is essentially what happens in spinal stenosis - only with spinal stenosis, there's less space between nerve tissue and the canal in which it's housed. As mentioned previously, spinal stenosis has many different causes, such as bone spurs, herniated discs, and slipped vertebrae, but the outcome is always a narrowing of the spinal canal.
The Importance of Keeping Your Medical Imaging Records Up To Date
If you are aging and have neck or back pain, or if you have a family history of neck or back problems, be sure to see your doctor regularly and keep your medical imaging records up to date. Receiving an MRI or CT scan as often as your doctor recommends can help doctors examine how your spinal composition is changing over time and whether spinal stenosis is developing. Allowing doctors to study the change in your spinal composition over time also can help them to foresee spine conditions before they become severe and recommend ways to prevent the onset of back and neck pain.