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How serious is canal stenosis as a condition?

Spinal canal stenosis (narrowing) is a relatively common condition that can result from degenerative changes in the spine. In many cases, it is associated with spinal osteoarthritis, which often develops as a result of years of wear and tear.

Spinal narrowing is not necessarily serious. In fact, the condition does not always cause symptoms or require treatment. However, because the spinal canal houses and protects the spinal cord and a series of sensitive nerve roots, stenosis can potentially lead to painful spinal nerve compression.

Symptoms of spinal narrowing

Some people are surprised to learn that they have canal stenosis after having an imaging test performed for an unrelated reason. Without the test results, there may be no indication that anything is amiss. Usually, any related discomfort is initially mild and tends to worsen gradually over time. The seriousness of the discomfort can vary depending on the location of the narrowing and which spinal nerves are affected.

For instance, canal stenosis in the neck (cervical spine) can produce:

  • Neck pain
  • Numbness or tingling sensations that radiate down one arm or leg
  • Muscle weakness in an arm, hand, leg or foot
  • Walking difficulties
  • Balance and coordination problems
  • Urinary urgency or incontinence (in very serious cases)

On the other hand, canal stenosis in the lower back (lumbar spine) can produce:

  • Lower back pain
  • Numbness or tingling sensations that travel down one leg
  • Muscle weakness in a leg or foot
  • Leg pain or cramping that worsens with standing or walking and improves with sitting or bending forward

When is spinal narrowing serious enough to warrant surgery?

If canal stenosis results in spinal nerve compression that causes severe pain, mobility issues or bladder or bowel dysfunction, surgery may be recommended to create more space for the spinal cord and nerve roots.

If you’re interested in exploring minimally invasive spine surgery to address canal stenosis, contact USA Spine Care to request a free MRI review.* Our team can explain the benefits and risks of our minimally invasive outpatient procedures and help you decide if you are a candidate.

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