Few people appreciate the usefulness of their spine until it can no longer function properly. The spine is essential to daily normal functioning, enabling someone to stand, walk and carry out daily tasks. The spine can become a hindrance when spinal stenosis occurs. Lumbar spinal stenosis is a term used to describe the narrowing of the spinal canal, and it has been predicted that 2.4 million Americans will be affected by lumbar spinal stenosis by 2021.
The Urgent Challenges of Lumbar Spinal Stenosis
“Lumbar spinal stenosis can occur at any point on a person’s spine, but the most common areas are the cervical (upper) and lumbar (lower) areas of the spine,” New York neurosurgeon, Ezriel Kornel, MD, states, “Individuals can be born with lumbar spinal stenosis, but the majority of us get it as a part of the aging process.”
Lumbar spinal stenosis represents a number of important challenges that cannot be ignored. Dr. Kornel also states that “A person is at the greatest risk of developing lumbar spinal stenosis after 50 years of age. Those who do acquire the condition may experience a significant change in their quality of life.”
When lumbar spinal stenosis occurs in the cervical spine, it can cause compression of the spinal cord. This can lead to weakness in the hands and difficulty coordinating walking, which can ultimately lead to paralysis. Lumbar spinal stenosis will cause compression to nerves running in that portion of the spine. These nerves are referred to as the cauda equine (or “horse’s tail” in Latin) and compression of the cauda equine can lead to pain, numbness and weakness in the legs. Furthermore, lumbar spinal stenosis can severely affect bowel and bladder control as well as erectile dysfunction. Additionally, cervical stenosis often leads to neck pain while lumbar spinal stenosis often leads to severe back pain, among other issues.
The Outlook on Lumbar Spinal Stenosis: Learning From the Past to Benefit the Future
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), the number of Americans with spinal stenosis in the lumbar area is expected to grow over the next five years as the Baby Boomers age. The Academy estimates that 2.4 million Americans will be affected by lumbar spinal stenosis by 2021.
“The development of spinal stenosis is typically a very slow process, which is why many individuals do not notice its effect until months later,” Dr. Kornel adds.
“The symptoms can be so subtle that the patients typically don’t see themselves being limited,” he says. “They tend to limit themselves because of the pain, but not until later do they realize their functional activities have decreased. Over time, they have stopped doing their normal activities such as going to church or the supermarket.”
Lumbar Spinal Stenosis Symptoms: Warning Signs You Can’t Ignore
The most common symptoms of lumbar spinal stenosis include pain in the neck and back. This can include but is not limited to issues like numbness, weakness, cramping or pain in the arms or legs. Rarely, lumbar spinal stenosis can occur suddenly, usually when a large portion of a disc (the cushion between the vertebrae) herniates into the spinal canal. When this occurs in the lumbar spine it can lead to a relatively rare but serious condition called “cauda equina syndrome.” It most often leads to serious symptoms such as difficulty walking, loss of control of the bowel or bladder and pain and numbness down the legs and in the genital region. When a sudden large disc herniation occurs in the cervical spine it can lead to quadriparesis also known as paralysis of all the limbs.
Treatment: Hope Is Just On the Horizon
Dr. Kornel, indicates that “lumbar spinal stenosis can be treated in three different ways depending on the severity of the symptoms. The first approach is conservative and involves physical therapy and chiropractic management. The second approach involves more invasive therapies such as spinal injections and epidural steroids.
The last line of treatment would include surgery, where a surgeon would open up the areas where the spinal cord and nerve roots are being compressed. This is done by removing elements that narrow the canal such as bone, ligament and disc, widening the spinal canal to allow the nerves and spinal cord to move freely without being compressed. This can now be performed very safely with minimally invasive surgery, limiting trauma to surrounding tissue and minimizing blood loss.
Dr. Kornel: The Help You Need Has Arrived
As one of the top spine doctors in the New York Metro area, Dr. Kornel helps baby boomers battle issues like lumbar spinal stenosis and other conditions on a daily basis. To find out more information about how you can re-take control of your life from this serious condition, call his office at (914) 351-3600, or visit his website www.brainandspinesurgeon.com to schedule a consultation.