Here on the Scoliosis SOS blog, we've discussed a number of conditions that can lead to a curvature of the spine - conditions such as osteoporosis and spondylolisthesis. But just as scoliosis can arise as the result of a larger, underlying health problem, there are also a number of conditions that sometimes occur as the result of scoliosis.
Today, we'd like to take a closer look at one such condition: spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal.
What is spinal stenosis?
As you probably know, the human spine (more properly known as the 'vertebral column') is made up of a number of small bones called vertebrae. Each individual vertebra has a hole in the middle of it, meaning that the vertebral column is effectively a long tube of bone.
Housed inside this tube is the spinal cord, a long bundle of nerves that runs from your brain stem to the lumbar (lower) section of your spine. The spinal cord carries information about the different parts of your body to and from the brain, and it is therefore crucial for all sorts of day-to-day bodily functions.
The space where the spinal cord resides is called the spinal canal. If your spinal canal becomes narrower for some reason, you are said to have spinal stenosis ('stenosis' being a Greek word that literally means 'narrowing'). This condition can affect any region of the spine, although it most commonly occurs in the lumbar region.
Image source: Blausen Medical via Wikimedia Commons
Spinal stenosis may result in one or more vertebrae pressing against the nerves of the spinal cord, which in turn may lead to a number of different symptoms.
Symptoms of spinal stenosis
If your spinal cord is being compressed due to spinal stenosis, you may experience pain, discomfort, numbness and/or weakness in various different parts of your body (including the back, shoulders, arms, hands, legs and buttocks).
Depending on where the stenosis is and which part of your spinal cord is impacted, you may also experience a loss of bladder/bowel control. In particularly extreme cases of spinal stenosis, the patient may find that symptoms progress until certain parts of the body are completely paralysed.
All of these symptoms occur because the inside of the vertebral column is pressing on the patient's nerves and interfering with the bodily functions associated with that part of the spinal cord.
What causes spinal stenosis?
Spinal stenosis can occur for all sorts of different reasons, the most common being:
- Ageing - Changes/deteriorations in the spine as you get older may result in a narrowing of the spinal canal
- Genetic defects - In some cases, a baby may be born with a narrow spinal canal (or with a genetic deformity that affects the structure of the spine)
- Tumours - If you have an abnormal growth on the inside of your spine, these may press against your spinal cord
- Injuries - Certain accidents/traumas may impact the spine and result in spinal stenosis
Scoliosis can also result in spinal stenosis, with the deterioration and curving/twisting of the spine sometimes putting pressure on the spinal cord itself. If you have a curved spine and you are experiencing numbness or any of the other symptoms mentioned above, it may well be because your curved spine is putting pressure on your nerves and interrupting the transmission of information between your brain and the rest of your body.
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