Are you finding it difficult to walk due to pain and numbness in your legs? You may be suffering from lumbar spinal stenosis, which occurs when the nerves in your lumbar spine become compressed.
Your lumbar spine consists of the five large vertebrae between your pelvis and the bottom of your ribcage. The nerves in your lumbar spine transmit electrical impulses from your groin, thighs, and calves to your brain. When these nerves are compressed, it results in pain and numbness.
Lumbar spinal stenosis can often be distinguished from other chronic back pain conditions because the pain is typically worse while standing, walking, or leaning backwards in a chair. The pain often subsides when leaning forwards in a chair, since this shifts your spine into a position that relives pressure on the spinal cord.
If you're suffering from these symptoms, read on for more information about why lumbar spinal stenosis happens and what you can do to treat it.
What Causes Lumbar Spinal Stenosis?
In older patients with arthritis, lumbar spinal stenosis is commonly caused by bone spurs growing in the lumbar spine. Arthritis can lead to the bone in your spine breaking down, and the body will naturally try to repair the damage. In the process, bone spurs can grow into the spinal cavity and compress the nerves, causing spinal stenosis.
Lumbar spinal stenosis can also be caused when one of the lumbar vertebrae shifts forward out of its normal position, pinching the spinal cord. Additional causes of lumbar spinal stenosis include a tumor growing within the spine or a spinal ligament beginning to thicken and press into the spinal cord.
Unfortunately, lumbar spinal stenosis is not a condition that resolves on its own—it requires surgical intervention to treat. Spinal stenosis is often progressive, as some causes of stenosis such as a bone spur or tumor will continue to grow and further compress the nerves in the lumbar spine. Symptoms will become more severe, and worsening lumbar spinal stenosis may result in the legs becoming fully paralyzed.
How Is Lumbar Spinal Stenosis Treated?
The method used to treat lumbar spinal stenosis is decompression surgery. In order to prevent the nerves in the lumbar spine from being compressed, it's necessary to open up some space within the spinal canal. This is usually accomplished by a laminectomy, in which the back portion of the vertebra is completely removed.
In some cases, an MRI may reveal that a laminotomy is sufficient to open up the spinal canal enough to avoid nerve compression. This procedure only removes a portion of the vertebra.
After a laminectomy or a laminotomy, you may require spinal fusion surgery. Removing the lamina or a portion of it can negatively affect the ability of that vertebra to support the spine. A spinal fusion restores this support by connecting several vertebrae together with metal rods, preventing the laminectomy or laminotomy from affecting spinal stability.
If you're suffering from pain and numbness in your legs that becomes worse when you stand up and walk, schedule an appointment with a pain management doctor and ask about lumbar spinal stenosis. Your doctor will use diagnostic imaging, such as an MRI, to determine if the nerves in your lumbar spine are compressed. If you have spinal stenosis, you may decide to schedule surgery with a neurosurgeon or orthopedic surgeon in order to correct the problem. In the meantime, your doctor can prescribe pain medication and recommend other treatment methods such as physical therapy in order to manage the pain.