Spinal Stenosis Complications

by LMatthews on September 3, 2012

spinal stenosis complications

Untreated spinal stenosis can lead to serious complications such as paralysis.

Complications resulting from untreated spinal stenosis can be severe so, although many people develop spinal stenosis and remain asymptomatic, it is important to be watchful for early signs of pinched nerves or even spinal cord compression. Spotting early signs of stenosis can mean the difference between making subtle and painless postural adjustments and spending weeks or months recovering from back surgery.

Types of Spinal Stenosis

The type of symptoms of spinal stenosis will depend on the location of the narrowing in the spinal column. Lumbar spinal stenosis complications and cervical spinal stenosis complications are more common than thoracic spinal stenosis due to general spinal mobility and resulting wear and tear. However, where thoracic spinal stenosis occurs it may cause more severe symptoms as the nerves affected are responsible for innervating the lungs and other organs.

Causes of Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis may occur due to a variety of conditions, some of which progress slowly, some of which are the result of acute trauma and some which are the result of congenital or genetic defects. The cause of spinal stenosis has a major effect on the likelihood of complications from spinal narrowing becoming permanent or pronounced.

Severe spinal stenosis complications may include:

  • Numbness
  • Weakness
  • Incontinence
  • Paralysis

Acute vs. Chronic Spinal Stenosis

For instance, acute trauma to the spine that causes swelling and inflammation and resultant nerve compression (but no lasting tissue damage) may cause short-term complications with the symptoms of pinched nerves resolving as the swelling goes down. In contrast, pinched nerves from osteophyte growth, spinal slippage and arthritis in the spine may gradually become more severe and eventually, if untreated, cause permanent nerve trauma and chronic symptoms.

Severe Spinal Stenosis Symptoms

Lumbar spinal stenosis, and some cases of cervical stenosis or thoracic stenosis, can lead to complications such as muscle atrophy and weakness in the legs and even paralysis in severe cases. Loss of bowel or bladder control is another potential complication of spinal stenosis, as is loss of sexual function. In many cases the symptoms of spinal stenosis appear gradually and can be slowed down or resolved before such complications occur.

Early Action for Spinal Stenosis

Addressing minor symptoms of spinal stenosis is, therefore, important so as to avoid long-term complications where possible. Ignoring chronic back pain is neither easy nor a good idea as it may only require simple interventions such as a short course of physical therapy to successfully resolve those early warning signs of pinched nerves and spinal cord compression, whereas more severe long-term spinal stenosis complications could need invasive treatment that carries its own risks.

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