The term spinal stenosis refers to a narrowing of the vertebral canal (the canal through which the spinal cord runs). The result is pressure on nerves in the area and pain, often running the length of the leg.
It is estimated that 1.2 million people suffer from spinal stenosis, most of them elderly adults. Stenosis is the result of the aging process, wear over time on the spinal anatomy. The narrowing is caused by boney growths, by the enlargement of ligaments in the area, protruding discs, and a slippage of the vertebrae. It can occur anywhere along the spine but most commonly is found in the lower back.
Symptoms of lumbar spinal stenosis include pain in the leg and lower back, numbness, weakness in the leg and, sometimes, incontinence. They are classified as mild, moderate and severe and become worse when the patient walks or stands. With the greater use of imaging devices such as MRI's, more people are now diagnosed with spinal stenosis including some who have no symptoms.
The treatments range from physical therapy and pain pills to surgery to relieve the pressure on nerves. The choice depends on the severity of the problem. Surgery is usually reserved for those with a moderate to severe problem.
Doctors who treat this condition include orthopedic surgeons, pain specialists, and neurosurgeons. Treatment starts with a conservative approach. Local injections of anesthetics can benefit many patients but only for a short time. The addition of steroids to the injection does not offer additional benefits.
Surgery for stenosis has been studied and appears to offer relief for those with severe problems. For those with moderate symptoms, the benefit is less clear. It is one of those decisions that has to be made with your doctor and possibly after a second opinion.
The following websites offer good information and may help with treatment decisions.