Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of areas in your spine, most commonly the upper and lower spinal regions. The narrowing puts pressure on the spinal cord and nerves branching out from it. Spinal stenosis can cause pain, weakness and numbness in various areas of the body, typically the legs.
Spinal stenosis may develop from osteoarthritis that deteriorates the cartilage between the vertebra in the spine. Ligaments can become stiff and weak and change the structure of your spine. A herniated disc can cause pain from your lower back into your leg. Tumors growing on the spine can cause nerve damage and pain. Trauma from accidents can cause damage to the spinal column resulting in spinal stenosis.
Spinal narrowing compresses nerves that results in pain. Compression of the lower back will result in pain and cramping in the legs. The pain is worse when standing or walking for long periods of time. Sitting or bending over can relieve pain. Other symptoms may include numbness or weakness in a portion of the leg or the entire leg. Walking can become difficult because of weakness and pain. You may also experience problems with urinating or with bowel movements.
Your doctor will perform a physical examination and use diagnostic tests to confirm a diagnosis. X-rays will show if a fracture or tumor is causing nerve compression. An MRI or CT scan will show damage to the discs or ligaments.
Treatment for spinal stenosis and leg pain includes using over-the counter-drugs such as Advil to reduce pain and inflammation. Analgesics such as Tylenol also reduce pain, but chronic usage may cause liver or kidney damage. A back brace can give added support and in turn give support to weak legs. Physical therapy helps build stronger muscles to support and stabilize the spinal area. Corticosteroid injections directly into the affected area in the back can quickly relieve pain and inflammation.
Surgery may be recommended when conservative treatments offer no back or leg pain relief. A decompressive laminectomy is a procedure in which the back part of the bone over the spine called the lamina is removed to create more space for the nerves. A laminotomy is the same as laminectomy, but only a portion of the lamina is removed. Fusion surgery involves connecting vertebra in the spine when discs have slipped or herniated. Surgery can take weeks or months to heal and long-term physical therapy may be needed to help control pain.