From an interview with
Dr. Eric Nabors
In the human body, spinal bones are stacked in a column from the skull to the tailbone. They protect the spinal cord, which runs through an opening called the spinal canal. Some people are born with a small spinal canal. But most spinal stenosis occurs when something happens to reduce the amount of open space within the spine. McLeod Health orthopedic spine surgeon Dr. Eric Nabors explains:
“The spinal canal is a tubular passageway. The spinal cord goes down through the middle of that passageway. The nerves come out through the side. So the narrowing of the spinal canal or the narrowing of the opening for the nerves is stenosis. The nerves run down through the middle, so if it narrows, it’s going to pinch the nerves. Where the nerves come out on the side, if it narrows down, it’s going to pinch and cause pain. Anything that narrows the spinal canal is a cause of stenosis. If a disc pushes really hard in one direction, that could cause it. If spurs push in the other direction, they can cause it. Most commonly, it’s a combination of disc bulging pushing one way, and spurs pushing the opposite way.
The symptoms of spinal stenosis are typically back pain and leg pain. One of the most common things that people tell me, and I know instantly that they have spinal stenosis, is that they can’t walk through the grocery store unless they lean on the shopping cart. And when they lean on the shopping cart, they can go as far as they want to. And the other thing that’s typical is they can walk a certain distance, five minutes, 10 minutes, and then they have to stop and rest. However, they’re not just stopping, but bending forward.
I can usually tell from listening to a patient’s symptoms, listening to their history, watching how they walk, looking at their X-rays. But the thing that we call the ‘gold standard’ to diagnose spinal stenosis is an MRI. Medicine, physical therapy, injections, chiropractic, acupuncture, traction – these are all treatments. Surgery is the last resort.
There is no way that spinal stenosis can be prevented because it’s part of the natural aging process. If we live long enough, we’re all going to get it. It’s uncommon at age 50. It’s almost universal by age 85.”
To learn more, talk with an orthopedic spine specialist near you.