Spinal stenosis is a very common disease of the spine, the incidence of which has been increased in recent years, along with the improvement of life expectancy in western societies.
It is a condition which in its most severe forms, if neglected, involves several risks, ranging up to severe types of paralysis.
Today, it is treated with contemporary surgical methods that focus on areas with stenosis through a small hole, unlike in the past when major surgeries were usually carried out, with incisions along the spine in order to decompress just a small area.
What is Spinal Stenosis?
With this term we mean the narrowing of the spinal canal, which results in pressure on the nerves or even on the spinal cord. Spinal stenosis can affect the cervical or lumbar spine with different symptoms in each case.
It occurs just as often in men and women, especially after the age of 50.
What causes spinal stenosis?
The main cause of spinal stenosis is the normal wear and tear of the vertebrae over the years. In other words, spinal stenosis is a degenerative disease, which results in the development of so-called bone spurs and osteoarthritis. When these bone structures develop, they take up space by pressing on the nerves.
Another common cause is intervertebral disc herniation, which can cause spinal stenosis in younger people or worsen the problem of a spine with osteoarthritis, further limiting the space available for nerves.
Thickening and hardening of the spinal ligaments, also known as ankylosis, is also a common cause of spinal stenosis. In essence, it is a defensive mechanism of the body, which through an inflammatory process causes the thickening of the ligaments that allow the movement of vertebrae in order to limit the mobility of the spine.
A less common cause of spinal stenosis is tumors, which also take up space and press on nerves. Tumors grow much faster compared to spinal degeneration and require immediate surgery.
Finally, fractures of the spine can cause spinal stenosis, either primary or secondary, as they result in displacement of bony parts of the vertebrae, a condition that also requires immediate surgical restoration.
What factors predispose to Spinal Stenosis?
The main factor is age, as spinal stenosis is a degenerative disease. Beyond age, there are genetic factors, such as when someone is born with a narrower spinal canal. In these cases, the vertebrae have congenitally narrow lumens. In other words, the space available to these vertebrae is smaller than normal, and as a consequence the spinal stenosis appears sooner along with more severe symptoms.
Other causes that predispose spinal stenosis are deformities of the spine, such as scoliosis, which also accelerate the onset of the disease.
Finally, spinal cord trauma is a predisposing factor for spinal stenosis. Indicatively, a fracture can be repaired without any problem, but it can be a cause for the appearance of the disease in the long run due to post-traumatic arthritis.
How dangerous is Spinal Stenosis?
Spinal stenosis risk depends on the area it affects. It does not evolve immediately in its most dangerous form, however if neglected it can lead to severe disability.
Generally, when spinal stenosis affects the cervical spine, it becomes more dangerous. In cervical spine the stenosis can cause damage to the spinal cord, a very sensitive anatomical structure, which is the continuation of the brain within the spine. Any damage to the spinal cord is usually irreparable and we should seek immediate medical advice in order to stop the progression of the disease.
When spinal stenosis affects the lumbar spine, it can cause loss of bladder and bowel control and significant muscle weakness, which can reach the limits of paralysis.