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Is your back, arm, or leg pain intermittent, dependent on what you’re doing at the time? This symptom could imply spinal stenosis.

When the bony apertures for your spinal nerves (foramen) and/or the spinal cord (central canal) become small, you have spinal stenosis. This constriction, which can occur at any place along your spine, may compress your spinal cord and/or spinal nerves. Spinal stenosis is a disorder that is more common in adults over the age of 60 and tends to deteriorate over time. 

Here are six common indications and symptoms to look out for if you fear you have spinal stenosis. One or more of the following symptoms may be encountered depending on the kind and location of the stenosis:

1. Claudication due to neurogenic causes

Neurogenic claudication in your legs can occur when nerves in your lower back become squeezed. Neurogenic claudication is characterised by the following :

  •     Constant leg discomfort and/or numbness while standing
  •     Pain and/or numbness in your legs after walking long distances or bending your spine backwards
  •     Difficulty carrying out upright workouts or activities
  •     Rest alleviates or eliminates discomfort and/or numbness.

Pain from neurogenic claudication is usually eased by bending your spine forward (as when leaning on a shopping cart/walker, squatting, or sitting and leaning forward). 

This pain will most likely need to be distinguished from vascular claudication, which might mirror neurogenic claudication.

2. Sciatic pain 

Compression of the nerve roots in your lower back might result in lumbar radiculopathy or sciatica (depending on which nerve roots are involved). Sciatica is characterised by nerve pain and weakness in one leg at a time.

Pain may develop in your lower back, buttock, thigh, calf, leg, and/or foot, depending on the nerve root(s) affected. Pins and needles, tingling, weakness, and/or numbness may also develop in pain-affected areas. 

3. Footfall

Compression of the L4 and L5 nerve roots in the lower spine may result in foot drop due to motor weakness. When attempting to move the foot and/or toes upward, this ailment usually generates a feeling of weakness. As a result, the individual may unintentionally drag their foot or trip while walking. 

The S1 nerve root compression may produce weakness when walking on tiptoes.

4. Gait issues

Depending on where it occurs in the spine, spinal stenosis can impede walking in a variety of ways, including:

    Foot drop can be caused by lumbar spinal stenosis (in the lower back). The syndrome may also cause thigh and leg muscular weakness, particularly in the quadriceps and calves.

    Cervical spinal stenosis (in the neck) with spinal cord compression can make it difficult to maintain balance while walking, especially at night. However, gait imbalance is not caused by cervical spine stenosis with a pinched nerve.

Gait changes may be too subtle to notice at first. The syndrome may manifest as increasingly increasing falls over time.

5. Arm ache that radiates

Cervical spinal stenosis can induce scorching or shock-like discomfort in the neck, shoulder, and/or arms. Both hands may experience abnormal sensations such as tingling, crawling, and/or numbness. Arms and hands may feel shaky.

6. Impairment of fine motor skills

Spinal stenosis in the cervical spine can make it difficult to do tasks requiring fine motor skills in the hand, such as buttoning a shirt. Writing may become difficult in the advanced stages, eventually making holding a pen impossible. 

If these symptoms sound familiar, consult your doctor right away because spinal stenosis can worsen if left untreated.

Spinal stenosis warning signs and symptoms

Significant spinal stenosis can occasionally create red flag symptoms like bowel and/or bladder incontinence, numbness in the inner thighs and genital area, and/or significant weakness in both legs.

These symptoms point to a significant medical problem, such as cauda equina syndrome, that must be treated immediately to prevent permanent loss of leg function. 

Treatment options for spinal stenosis

To discover the underlying cause of spinal stenosis, a medical expert must make an appropriate diagnostic. Depending on the nature and severity of your condition, your doctor may recommend nonsurgical therapies such as physical therapy, pain medications, and/or activity reduction. Minimally invasive techniques, such as epidural steroid injections, may be recommended at times. Unless there are serious symptoms or neurologic impairments, surgery is rarely recommended as first-line treatment. 


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