Canal stenosis is a type of spinal stenosis, or spinal narrowing, occurring in the central spinal canal that protects the spinal cord. The spinal canal is formed by bony arches that extend off the back of each vertebral body that together from a long tunnel running from the base of the skull to the lower back.
While certain birth defects and tumors can lead to canal stenosis, the primary underlying cause of this condition is usually the natural aging process. Over time, parts of the spine naturally wear out, which can lead to conditions that constrict or narrow this already tight passageway in the spine.
Specific conditions that can cause canal stenosis
Here are four of the most common degenerative spine conditions that are diagnosed with canal stenosis:
- Bone spurs. Also called osteophytes, these are small growths of bone that can develop in the spine due to increased friction between the vertebrae caused by osteoarthritis or degenerative disc disease. Although not painful themselves, they can extend into the spinal canal, causing canal stenosis and related symptoms.
- Herniated discs. When inner material from a spinal disc pushes out through a crack or tear in the outer layer, it can protrude into the spinal canal, leading to narrowing.
- Bulging discs. Similar to a herniated disc, except the outer layer stays intact, this condition can also cause canal stenosis.
- Thickened ligaments. Also called ligamentum flavum hypertrophy, the ligaments that help join the vertebrae can become hard and swollen due to age-related factors and strain on the spinal column. Like the above conditions, this can narrow the central spinal canal, potentially causing painful nerve compression.
Other conditions that can cause canal stenosis include spondylolisthesis, or vertebral slippage and scoliosis.
Treatment for canal stenosis
The age-related changes that often lead to canal stenosis happen to everyone to some degree and this condition is not necessarily painful. Symptoms occur when the narrowing is severe enough to put pressure on the spinal cord or a nerve root, the point where it branches off from the spinal cord. The resulting pain and mobility issues can have a severe impact on everyday activities and chores, leading many patients to seek treatment.
In a large number of cases, patients dealing with canal stenosis symptoms find relief from conservative treatments like physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medication, lifestyle changes and hot/cold compression therapy. Spine surgery to open up space in the spinal canal and decompress an affected nerve can become an option if conservative treatments have been exhausted. If you are in this situation, reach out to the caring team at USA Spine Care for more information about the benefits of our minimally invasive outpatient surgery.
We can help you receive a free MRI review* to determine if you are a potential candidate for one of our procedures.