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Lumbar Spinal Stenosis

  • What is Lumbar Spinal Stenosis?

    Spinal stenosis occurs when the space around the spinal cord narrows, putting pressure on the cord and nerve roots. It is caused by the gradual narrowing of the spinal canal due to a thickened yellow ligament (ligamentum flavum), enlarged facet joints and bulging discs. This results in reduced space for the nerve and is usually caused by the normal ageing process.

  • Arthritis (degeneration of a joint) is the most common cause of spinal stenosis. Arthritis in the spine causes settling or collapse of the disc spaces and loss of disc height (when spaces between discs reduce).

    You may have a higher risk of lumbar spinal stenosis if you:

    • are a woman
    • are born with a narrow spinal canal
    • are older than 50 years
    • have had a past injury to the spine
  • Symptoms of lumbar spinal stenosis include:

    • back pain
    • burning pain in the buttocks or legs (sciatica)
    • numbness or tingling in the buttocks or legs
    • reduced pain when leaning forward or sitting
    • weakness in the legs or ‘foot drop’ (weakening of muscles that flex the ankle and toes)
  • Treatment for lumbar spinal stenosis includes:

    • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications to reduce pain and swelling
    • Physiotherapy involving stretching exercises, massage, and lumbar and abdominal strengthening
    • Steroid injections to reduce pain and swelling. They may also reduce numbness but not weakness of the legs
    • Surgical treatment is generally reserved for people with difficulty in walking and includes:
      1. Decompression laminectomy to decompress (remove pressure from) the nerves
      2. Spinal fusion to stop movement between the vertebrae
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