What Are the Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis?

Numbness of leg

Story at-a-glance -

  • The primary symptom for spinal stenosis is the tingling or numbness of the buttocks or legs, often caused by the blockage of the pathway between the lower extremities and the brain
  • However, it should be noted that the occurrence of these symptoms vary for each individual, with some patients having an asymptomatic form of spinal stenosis
  • If you’ve observed more than one of the symptoms of spinal stenosis mentioned above, it is recommended that you consult a health practitioner to properly diagnose it or rule out other conditions that share the same symptoms

The primary symptom for spinal stenosis is the tingling or numbness of the buttocks or legs, often caused by the blockage of the pathway between the lower extremities and the brain. However, there are other telltale symptoms that can point to spinal stenosis, some of which are shared with other musculoskeletal conditions. Some of these symptoms include:

Sciatica. This refers to the severe pain that emanates from the sciatic nerve, the largest single nerve in the body. It can cause numbness, weakness and a tingling sensation from the lower back to the foot. Some indicators for sciatica include:1,2

  • Constant or burning pain in only one side of the buttock or leg
  • Severe pain when sitting
  • Intensified pain when moving your extremities

Neurogenic claudication. In contrast to vascular claudication, this type refers to the pain and cramping in the lower back, hips and buttocks. A sensation of heaviness in the legs has also been noted in some cases. The pain usually goes away by sitting down or by leaning forward.3

Numbness in the upper extremities. In cervical spinal stenosis (spinal stenosis that occurs in the neck area), weakness in the shoulders, arms and hands may be observed. It affects the body’s balance as well.4

However, it should be noted that the occurrence of these symptoms vary for each individual, with some patients having an asymptomatic form of spinal stenosis. This mainly differs depending on the affected area of the spine.

Spinal Stenosis Can Lead to Cauda Equina Syndrome

In severe cases, spinal stenosis leads to the development of another spinal condition, albeit a more severe one, called cauda equina syndrome. This occurs when there is extreme pressure and eventual inflammation of the nerves located at the lower end of the spinal cord.

Cauda equina is one of the severe complications of spinal stenosis that needs urgent surgical intervention. This syndrome shares the same symptoms with spinal stenosis, in addition to the following:5

  • Bladder or bowel dysfunction. Because of the gradual loss of control in the lower part of the body, patients are unable to regulate their bladder and bowel movement. They either retain urine or are unable to keep it in.
  • Lower extremity motor and sensory loss. Cauda equina can lead to saddle anesthesia, which is the loss of feeling in the areas that sit on a saddle. Reflexes in the lower extremities can also be affected.

The onset of these symptoms can be categorized as either acute or gradual. Acute onset refers to the rapid development of these symptoms, sometimes developing in less than 24 hours. Gradual onset refers to the slow development of symptoms, which may come and go in a span of a few months.

How Is Spinal Stenosis Diagnosed?

If you’ve observed more than one of the symptoms of spinal stenosis mentioned above, it is recommended that you consult a health practitioner to properly diagnose it or rule out other conditions that share the same symptoms. Immediate diagnosis will help slow down its development earlier and avoid it from progressing into a more severe form.

After consultation, a health practitioner may require a medical history check to determine whether you have a predisposition to this condition or have had previous injuries that may have affected your spine. A physical exam is also required, which includes a motor examination, sensory examination and a gait examination. In some cases, a rectal exam can also be done to test the health of the nerves that control bowel movement.6 Other tests include:7

  • X-ray. This will help in locating the affected area and determine whether it’s caused by herniated discs or bone spurs. X-rays can also be used to check for the presence of tumors or injuries that may be putting pressure on the spinal cord.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRIs can be done to check for tumors, tissue degeneration or abnormal enlargements. This is considered to be the most appropriate noninvasive test for detecting spinal compression.8
  • Myelogram. This process is used to diagnose numerous problems and disorders in the spinal canal. A dye is injected into the spinal fluid to provide a clearer image on where the compression is happening. Some physicians note that a myelogram is a clearer version of the standard X-ray.9

MORE ABOUT SPINAL STENOSIS

Spinal Stenosis:Introduction

What Is Spinal Stenosis?

Spinal Stenosis Symptoms

Spinal Stenosis Causes

Types of Spinal Stenosis

Spinal Stenosis Treatment

Spinal Stenosis Surgeries

Spinal Stenosis Prevention

Spinal Stenosis Exercises

Spinal Stenosis Diet

Spinal Stenosis FAQ


< Previous

What Is Spinal Stenosis?

Next >

Spinal Stenosis Causes

Click Here and be the first to comment on this article
Post your comment