Spinal stenosis, both neck and lower back, are common for people age 60 and older. Lumbar or lower back stenosis is more common, but cervical stenosis is more dangerous because it involves compression of the spinal cord.
In lumbar stenosis, the spine nerve roots in the lower back are compressed causing symptoms of sciatica including tingling, weakness or numbness that radiates from the low back into the buttocks and legs, especially with activity. The discomfort eases when you bend or sit.
Spinal stenosis in the neck can compress the spinal cord and lead to total body weakness or even paralysis. The pain in the neck can feel like numbness, weakness or tingling in the leg, arm, foot or hand.
Stenosis is caused by the narrowing of the open spaces within your spine that puts pressure on the spinal cord and the nerves that travel along the spine, particularly in the cervical and lumbar regions of the spine—neck area and lower back, respectively. Spinal stenosis can cause pain, numbness, muscle weakness and problems with bladder and bowel function.
It is most commonly caused by wear-and-tear changes in the spine related to aging. Other causes include bone disease that causes an excess of bone growth of around the spinal nerves as in osteoarthritis. Stenosis can also result from herniated discs, thickened ligaments around the spine, tumors on the spinal cord, within the membranes that cover the spinal cord or in the space between the spinal cord and the vertebrae, and spinal injuries from car accidents and other major trauma that cause dislocations and multiple fractures that can put pressure on the spinal cord and nerves.
Spinal stenosis is treated by anti-inflammatory medication and other medications to reduce pain. Sometimes physical therapy helps, as well as steroid injections in the space around the nerve root where there is swelling and pressure.
Repeated steroid injections can weaken bones and connective tissue, so they are limited a just a few per year. In severe cases, surgery may be required to create additional space for the spinal cord and nerves. Laminectomy or Spinal Fusion surgery may be required if the nonsurgical treatments have not helped.