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Spinal stenosis involves narrowing of the spinal canal that results in pressure placed on the spinal cord. It can also represent a narrowing of the neural foramina or the openings out of which the spinal nerves emerge to innervate the body.

Spinal stenosis tends to get worse with age and happens when the disks become drier and begin to shrink. The bones enlarge as a result of arthritic changes in the spine and as a result of chronic inflammation of the spinal joints so that the narrow spinal canal becomes narrower.

Other causes of spinal stenosis can be a herniated disc in the spin from an injury, osteoarthritis of the back or vertebrae, a congenital defect of the spine itself, spinal tumours and diseases like Paget's disease of the bone or achondroplasia.

Symptoms of spinal stenosis often grow gradually over time. The symptoms can be on one side of the body, the other side of the body or both sides of the body. There can be pain in the back, buttocks or thighs due to problems in the lower back. There can be cramping or numbness of the muscles and skin of the lower extremities on one side of the body or the other. There can be problems with neck pain, associated with pain in the arms, neck or shoulders. There can be weakness of the arm or leg or both the arm and leg on the same side of the body.

Standing up and walking tend to make the symptoms worse and they tend to disappear with leaning forward or sitting down. Walking is a severe problem for people with spinal stenosis but riding a bicycle can be no problem at all. The more severe symptoms include problems with balancing when walking, problems with bowel and bladder function including problems with controlling either function.

The diagnosis of spinal stenosis depends on a complete history and physical examination, including a good neurological examination. The doctor will see you walk, sit and stand, and will assess your pain at each different position. Your doctor will have you do straight leg raising, which checks for sciatica. Reflexes will be assessed to see if they are increased or decreased. Doctors can also do an electromyogram or EMG to assess nerve and muscle function of an extremity, a spinal CT exam, which assesses the narrowing of the spinal canal, a spinal MRI, which is similar to a CT scan, and an x-ray of the standing spine.

Treatment of spinal stenosis depends on the severity of the symptoms and the ability of passive measure to take care of the pain, such as physical therapy and medications. If conservative therapy doesn't work, then surgery is recommended. Medications known to control the symptoms include giving steroid injections, using tricyclic antidepressants, using phenytoin or using carbamazepine to control nerve function.

Surgery can include a foraminectomy, which opens the spinal foramen, a laminectomy, which removes the disc of the spine in the affected area and a spinal fusion, which keeps the spine continually stable by fusing the two bones together. Surgery is often done on the neck and on the lower back but can be done anywhere along the spine.

The prognosis of spinal stenosis is fairly good. Most can continue a normal and active lifestyle without having to resort to surgery. Even with surgery, many patients do well after suffering from spinal stenosis. Surgery may only provide partial pain relief but it may be enough to increase physical activity. There is the likelihood of more problems if two or more types of surgery become necessary. Complications include a lack of sensation to an extremity or more than one extremity. Infections can happen and worsen because you don't feel them. Chronic weakness of an extremity is possible, even if the compression is relieved.

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Medical Negligence Solicitors

Our personal injury solicitors operate a specialist medical negligence compensation service. Our Spinal Stenosis solicitors deal with claims using a no win no fee arrangement which means that if you don�t win then you don�t pay them their professional costs. If you would like legal advice at no cost with no further obligation just complete the contact form or email our lawyers offices or use the helpline and a Spinal Stenosis solicitor will review your medical negligence compensation claim and phone you immediately.

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The author of the substantive medical writing on this website is Dr. Christine Traxler MD whose biography can be read here