The vertebral/spinal canal protects the spinal cord.
The spine is made up of vertebral bodies that are connected together by the discs at the front (towards the stomach) and joints at the rear (towards the back). Ligaments additionally secure the spine at the front and the back. The vertebral bodies, discs and ligaments form a canal (vertebral/spinal canal) that is designed to protect the spinal cord and the nerve roots exiting it.
Our discs become more unstable as we get older.
As we get older the amount of water in our disc tissues is reduced. The discs become flatter and cracked, making them more unstable. These degenerative (=wear and tear) changes lead to the formation of reactive bone spurs and the protrusion of several ligaments into the spinal canal: the spinal canal slowly becomes narrower and narrower: spinal stenosis.
Information about Spinal stenosis from A - Z.
Definition. What is a spinal stenosis?
Progressive narrowing of the spinal canal.
Congenital (present at birth) spinal stenosis is a rare form of spinal canal narrowing. It is characterised by symptoms that already develop between 2 to 4 years of age. The wide-spread acquired (degenerative) spinal stenosis is a typical phenomenon in people between 50 and 100 years of age. It affects the lumbar spine extremely often. The cervical spine is the second most common site for spinal stenosis, while the thoracic spine is only rarely affected.
Causes. How does spinal stenosis develop?
Congenital spinal stenosis.
Congenital spinal stenosis along the entire spinal column is caused by the bony connective bridges (pedicles) between the vertebral body and vertebral joint being "too short".
Acquired spinal stenosis in the lumbar spine.
An acquired lumbar spinal stenosis is caused by wear and tear in the disc in old age. This disc degeneration also causes joints to thicken and the ligamentum flavum (a type of ligament in the spine) to protrude into the spinal canal.
Acquired spinal stenosis in the cervical spine.
Acquired cervical spinal stenosis is also caused by wear and tear in the disc. The disc degeneration also causes temporary instability in the cervical spine. Bone spurs grow from the end plates of the vertebral bodies as a reaction to this, forming a bridge over the disc and stabilising the cervical spine. Unfortunately, these bony spurs also extend into the spinal canal and place pressure on the spinal cord or the nerve roots exiting it.
Symptoms. What are the signs of a spinal stenosis?
Degenerative spinal stenosis in the lumbar spine.
A typical symptom of degenerative spinal stenosis in the lumbar spine is not being able to walk as far. Patients report that they have to rest more often due to heavy, painful or numb legs. The spinal canal becomes wider when bending forwards. Patients therefore tend to bend forwards when walking or support themselves on shopping trolleys. In most cases, the ability to ride a bike is not affected as people usually lean slightly forwards when cycling.
Spinal stenosis in the cervical spine.
Spinal stenosis in the cervical spine is associated with the following symptoms: Increasing clumsiness in the hands. It becomes more difficult to button up shirts, thread a needle, count coins, or hold onto matches. The patient´s handwriting suffers. Objects fall out of the hands when the disease is at an advanced stage. Patients also feel more unsteady when walking and walk with their legs wide apart. They say that their legs "feel like wood or cement".
Diagnostics & Treatment
Spinal stenosis can be treated conservatively or surgically depending on the severity and extent of spinal canal narrowing.
Prevention & Medical Advice
Can I prevent a spinal stenosis? When should I go to the doctor in case of complaints? We provide advice and assistance in everyday life.
These specialist clinics and hospitals have qualified physicians and therapists for the treatment of spinal stenosis and diseases of the spine.