Lumbar spinal stenosis describes the narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower back (or the lumbar segment of the vertebral column). Someone can develop lumbar spinal stenosis for a variety of reasons, the most common are a previous back injury or just a result from the natural process of aging.
Regardless of the reasons of why lumbar spinal stenosis develops, the symptoms are caused by an abnormal protrusion of muscle tissue or bone, which compress the nerve roots in the lower back. In more severe cases of lumbar spinal stenosis, the spinal cord itself is compressed causing extreme pain and possible paralysis.
There are many common symptoms of lumbar spinal canal stenosis. These symptoms include numbness, cramping, pain or weakness in one or both feet, the legs or the buttocks. Usually, these symptoms will become more pronounced with walking, standing straight or leaning backward. These symptoms will become less noticeable may become less noticeable when sitting down or leaning forward.
Stiffness or tightness in the muscles of the legs can be another symptom. Muscle stiffness is often present in lumbar spinal stenosis patients due to the constant irritation of the nerves that lead to the legs. This irritation causes the nerves to fire constantly, which can cause the leg muscles to spasm and stiffen.
The loss of bladder and bowel control and the incomplete emptying of the bladder is another set of symptoms due to the partial or near-total disruption of the nerves in and around the lower back that are responsible for the regulation of bladder and bowel function. In the most severe cases of lumbar spinal stenosis, nerve function can be lost to the extent that control of the bladder and rectal muscles may be completely compromised.
Obviously, lumbar spinal stenosis will result in back pain. However, the pain may range from almost unnoticeable to a constant, severe pain. When the pain is present, it will feel as if it is radiating from the patient’s lower back into the hips and legs. The patient will usually be able to point to specific region on the lower back where their pain seems to be the most severe.
After considering the patient’s medical history and the patient’s description of symptoms, a spinal doctor will usually order diagnostic testing. Confirming that a patient is suffering from lumbar spinal stenosis usually will require imaging tests, such as Computed Tomography (CT) scans or x-rays of the lumbar region. MRI technologies have been invaluable in cases of spinal stenosis due to their high sensitivity in detecting small changes in the anatomy of the lower back.
Lumbar spinal canal stenosis often is the result of other injuries to the lower back as well as changes in anatomy and function of the spine taking place as part of the natural process of growing old. A complete and conclusive diagnosis should be entrusted to your doctor.