A narrowed spinal canal describes a condition in which the central primary vertebral canal space is decreased in size due to one or more structural blockages or simply due to its natural shape and design. The more common name for this issue is spinal stenosis, which is the focus of this very website. Other diagnostic terms used interchangeably include: spinal canal narrowing, decreased canal size, stenotic central canal, decreased canal patency and diminished canal diameter. All these conditions basically mean the exact same thing and the variety and diversity of terminologies only succeed in confusing patients in most cases.
If you have been diagnosed with spinal stenosis, it is absolutely critical that you learn the facts of the condition and how they apply to your particular case, in order to best succeed in your treatment efforts.
What is a Narrowed Spinal Canal?
The central spinal canal space contains the spinal cord, as well as many other tissues which surround and protect it. The spinal cord generally ends at or about the level of L1 and then continues as the cauda equina, which is basically just a mass of nerve roots which exit at each vertebral level throughout the lumbar and sacral spinal zones.
Central spinal stenosis occurs when this main hollowed space is decreased in size. This is a normal process to experience as we get older, and in mild to moderate forms, usually does not create any symptoms, or only very minor symptoms in most people. Severe or extreme stenotic change in the central canal can bring on fearsome symptoms and may require drastic and even surgical medical interventions.
Spinal Canal Narrowing Causes
There are many possible causes of spinal stenosis throughout the backbone. The most common are certainly osteoarthritic alterations, since these are universal as we get older, and herniated discs, since these are the most prevalent of all spinal abnormalities.
Spinal stenosis from arthritis is difficult to treat successfully without surgery, but this type of care is only needed when the arthritic bone spurs or debris drastically reduce the available space within the central canal and compress nerve tissues.
Stenosis due to herniated discs may resolve without treatment, but may also require surgical or nonsurgical therapy to correct.
Other less common causes of stenosis include scoliosis, spondylolisthesis and abnormal front to back spinal curvature, such as lordosis and kyphosis.
Narrowed Spinal Canal Consequences
Having a narrowed central canal space is a diagnosis which is very typical for the elderly, and in many cases, may not present a big problem.
If the spinal cord or cauda equina suffers any type of compression, rather than simple contact, which is often diagnosed as abutment, displacement, impingement or effacement, then the table is set for stenosis symptoms to begin. As long as the cord or cauda equina has enough room to function, mild to moderate forms of canal narrowing should not be causative or contributory issues to any pain which may be experienced.
Remember, many patients have coincidental canal narrowing and actually have pain due to some other structural or nonstructural source.