Spinal stenosis occurs when the spinal canal becomes narrowed. This narrowing can lead to nerve roots or the spinal cord to become pinched. Spinal stenosis can occur in either the lower back or the neck. Once the nerves become compressed, serious symptoms can occur that can lead to complications such as a loss of feeling in your legs or feet. Spinal stenosis is most common in people over 50 and can be associated with osteoarthritis-related bone destruction.
Stiffness and Numbness
The most common symptoms of spinal stenosis are stiffness in joints and numbness of the neck, shoulders and extremities (such as the arms and legs). You may have difficulty walking or maintaining your balance. You may even trip over your own feet or find that you need to hold onto something to maintain your posture.
As the nerves or spinal cord becomes compressed over time, symptoms can lead to a loss of bowel or bladder control. This condition can become serious as you may either experience a loss of the bladder with minor leaks or soil yourself entirely. You may feel the urge to use the restroom, but due to the pinched nerves, you may be unable to control these urges until you reach the facilities.
Cauda Equina Syndrome
In severe cases of spinal stenosis, cauda equina syndrome can occur. Cauda equina syndrome is the condition that occurs when \ the spinal canal becomes so compressed that pain within one or both legs occurs. You may also experience pain within your buttocks, numbness in the genital region, muscle weakness and sharp, stabbing and constant pain.
You may at times experience a tingling or weakness within your buttocks. Spinal stenosis of the neck, if it becomes severe, can lead to massive body weakness or paralysis if left untreated. Sciatica (leg tingling or pain, weakness or pain within the back) can also occur. Claudication, which refers to leg cramping that cannot be alleviated, is another possible effect.
It is important to stay active to prevent your body from becoming stiff or from losing muscle control. Flexing the joints or walking--even while bent over a walker--may help to keep the muscles loose. Riding a stationary bike can help reduce the risk of spinal stenosis symptoms. Speak with a doctor to determine whether using anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen can help alleviate symptoms.
In severe cases, such as claudication, surgery may be necessary. Decompression surgery may help to alleviate symptoms of spinal stenosis substantially. It is important to speak with a doctor to discuss pain management, rehabilitation or surgery options to help manage symptoms associated with spinal stenosis.