The neurological effects of spinal stenosis are the most variable of all possible back or neck symptoms. Each patient might demonstrate a unique symptomology, in terms of expressions, locations and timeline. Stenosis comes in both symptomatic and asymptomatic versions, with the majority of clinical presentations falling in to the latter category. Stenosis is a normal process to experience with advancing age and can also be created by many other contributory factors, including injury, congenital conditions, developmental conditions and disease processes. Since most cases of central stenotic change are not symptomatic, we will leave these normal types of spinal degeneration out of this conversation altogether.
Instead, this discussion will focus on the consequences of stenosis that is indeed symptomatic. To this end, we will concentrate on highlighting the short and long-term effects of central canal impingement on the neurological structures of the spine.
Short-Term Neurological Effects of Spinal Stenosis
Symptomatic stenosis can begin once the narrowing of the central vertebral canal actually compresses the spinal cord or the cauda equina. A narrowed canal, unto itself, is not problematic, until the space becomes too small for the nerves to function as naturally designed. Once stenosis reaches a symptomatic level, certain expressions can become apparent in the patient. The actual symptoms that are expressed will vary with the particulars of the specific case profile and will be influenced by the location of the stenosis, the degree of the stenosis and the types of spinal nerve tissues that are affected. These symptoms might include:
Pain might begin locally or may occur virtually anywhere below the affected vertebral levels.
The patient might feel that certain muscle groups are not working correctly. Muscular spasms might ensue in select cases.
Subjective or objective numbness might ensue in the anatomy, residing anywhere below the stenotic levels of the vertebral column.
Paresthesia may occur locally or anywhere below the affected spinal regions.
The patient might have trouble standing or walking.
The patient may show the preliminary signs of sexual dysfunction orincontinence of the bladder or bowels.
Straightening the stenotic region will make symptoms worse, while bending it will likely provide temporary relief.
Long-Term Neurological Consequences of Stenosis
If stenosis continues and progresses, unchecked and untreated, certain more serious symptoms are likely to occur. These neurological consequences may include:
Pain may or may not remain, since many patients lose feeling and functionality in areas that used to be painful. This objective numbness usually denotes a complete shutdown of neurological functions.
Incontinence, sexual dysfunction and organ dysfunction are more likely to be experienced in the lower body.
The patient will not likely be able to stand for long, if at all.
The cells in the spinal cord, or in the spinal nerves, may suffer permanent damage. This can make the terrible effects of severe stenosis irreversible, even if treatment is successfully rendered to relieve the canal impingement.
Once spinal nerve damage has occurred, possible consequences might include permanent versions of any of the above symptoms, as well as the possibility for complete or incomplete paralysis, or even death, in rare instances.
Neurological Effects of Spinal Stenosis Explanations
Neurological compression can traumatize the highly sensitive cells in the spinal cord and in the spinal nerves. While these structures can often tolerate serious degrees of compression, without sustaining permanent trauma, some patients do suffer lasting neurological deficits from acute or chronic versions of severe stenosis.
The medical sector is still in the dark ages when it comes to repairing damage to the central nervous system components. Therefore, once the neurological system is injured, the consequences are likely to last for life. Worse still, since the very processes of life are wholly dependent on signals that link the brain to the remainder of the anatomy, terrible effects will result once these neurological highways are altered. This fact helps to explain why many life-threatening conditions are more common in stenosis patients, including heart problems, strokes, cancer, as well as various diseases of the skin and internal organs
If stenosis exists in your spine, be sure to monitor the condition with a qualified neurologist. It is not prudent to wait until the symptoms become acute before seeking professional care. Remember, central stenosis can also predispose patients to increased risks for paralysis during injury, since the force of trauma might be concentrated on the actual spinal nerve tissues. This fact should always be considered before participating in high impact or high risk activities.