I have heard from a number of group members who have been diagnosed with spinal stenosis. The diagnosis is often made based on what is found on a CT scan or MRI without the expected corresponding signs and symptoms. It is important to understand what any diagnosis means in relationship to your back or leg pain.
Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the space formed by the bony segments that together make up the vertebra (the bones of the spine). The space in each vertebra is connected to the vertebra above and below to form the spinal canal, through which the spinal cord passes. Narrowing of the canal in the lumbar region, called lumbar spinal stenosis, could squeeze the spinal cord. When you are standing up, the curve in the spine makes the narrowing worse and may cause pain radiating to the leg. Many patients found to have narrowing don’t have the signs and symptoms that would indicate that their back and leg pain was caused by the narrowing. Bending over when you walk, having more pain if you straighten up, and having to wait a few minutes when you sit down for the pain to go away, are all symptoms that suggest the spinal stenosis was truly the cause of the pain; just finding narrowing with imaging isn’t enough.
Other imaging diagnoses such as degenerative disc disease, degenerative osteoarthritis, bulging or herniated disc, and facet arthropathy, may also be misleading. Just because there is an anatomic finding on an image doesn’t mean it is the cause of the pain. If some form of exercise relieved the pain, the most reasonable explanation would be that much of the pain was related to soft tissue, such as muscle and tendon and not to the imaging diagnoses.
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