The word stenosis is derived from the Greek word stenos, meaning narrow. Canal refers to the central vertebral canal which houses the spinal cord. Canal stenosis literally means narrowing of the central vertebral canal housing the spinal cord. Spinal stenosis is generally divided into two subtypes: central spinal stenosis and lateral (foraminal) spinal stenosis. Central spinal canal stenosis is referred to by various names such as spinal stenosis, canal stenosis, or central stenosis. The spinal narrowing may be slowly caused by aging, or a more rapidly occurring in conditions such as herniated discs, bone spurs, ligament thickening or other processes. Stenosis only becomes symptomatic when neural tissue is encroached upon. The greater the encroachment, the more severe the symptoms become. Severe canal stenosis can produce debilitating symptoms such as radiating pain, tingling, numbness or muscle weakness.
Anatomical components involved with spinal stenosis
Most of the conditions that can lead to severe canal stenosis are associated with the aging process. Everyday wear and tear takes a toll on the components of the spinal anatomy. This reduces the space available for the spinal cord or nerve roots. The components of the spinal anatomy generally associated with the development of stenosis include:
- Intervertebral discs – spongy cushions between vertebrae; made up of gel-like nucleus pulposus and a fibro-elastic outer wall.
- Facet joints – points where vertebrae meet and articulate.
- Foramina – openings on either side of vertebrae, through which nerve roots pass.
- Pedicles – two thick processes that project backward off the vertebral body to connect the body to the vertebral arch.
- Laminae – thin plates that extend off the pedicles and form part of the vertebral arch.
- Ligaments – fibrous tissues that connect bone to bone.
Treating severe canal stenosis
Most of the time, symptoms associated with mild to moderate canal stenosis can be symptomatically managed using conservative treatments, such as pain medication, exercise, stretching or behavior modification. However, if debilitating symptoms persist despite weeks or months of conservative treatment, surgery may be indicated. If so, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn how a minimally invasive, outpatient procedure performed using innovative, endoscopic technology may help treat the cause of spinal stenosis symptoms.