6 signs of spinal stenosis
1. Neurogenic claudication
When the nerves in your lower back get compressed, you may experience neurogenic claudication in your legs. Neurogenic claudication usually has the following characteristics:
Your doctor will likely need to differentiate this pain from vascular claudication, which can mimic neurogenic claudication.
Compression of the nerve roots in your lower back may lead to lumbar radiculopathy or sciatica (depending on the nerve roots affected). Sciatica is experienced as nerve pain and weakness typically felt in one leg at a time.
Depending on the nerve root(s) affected, pain may occur in your lower back, buttock, thigh, calf, leg and/or foot. A pins-and-needles sensation, tingling, weakness and/or numbness may also occur in the areas affected by pain.
3. Foot drop
Compression of the L4 and L5 nerve roots in the lower spine may cause motor weakness in your foot, resulting in foot drop. This condition typically causes a feeling of weakness while attempting to lift the foot and/or toes upward. As a result, the individual may involuntarily drag their foot or tend to trip while attempting to walk.
The compression of the S1 nerve root may cause weakness while walking on tip-toes
4. Gait problems
Spinal stenosis can affect walking in different ways depending on its location within the spine, for example:
5. Radiating arm pain
Cervical spinal stenosis may cause mild to moderate burning or shock-like pain in the neck, shoulder and/or arms. Abnormal sensations, such as tingling, crawling and/or numbness may be felt in both hands. The arms and hands may feel weak.
6. Loss of fine motor skills
Spinal stenosis in the cervical spine may cause difficulty in doing tasks that involve fine motor skills of the hand, such as buttoning a shirt. In the advanced stages, there may be difficulty with writing, eventually making holding a pen impossible.
If these symptoms sound familiar, check with your doctor, since spinal stenosis may get worse without treatment.
Red-flag signs and symptoms of spinal stenosis
Rarely, severe spinal stenosis may cause red-flag symptoms, such as bowel and/or bladder incontinence, numbness in the inner thighs and genital area and/or severe weakness in both legs.
These symptoms indicate a serious medical condition, such as cauda equina syndrome, which must be treated urgently to prevent permanent loss of function in the legs.
Spinal stenosis treatment options
An accurate diagnosis by a medical professional is necessary to determine the underlying cause of spinal stenosis. Depending on the cause and severity, your doctor may suggest nonsurgical treatments, such as physical therapy, pain-relieving medications and/or activity modification. Sometimes, minimally invasive procedures, such as epidural steroid injections may be advised. Surgery is rarely advocated as the first-line treatment unless there are severe symptoms or neurologic deficits.
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