Causes of Spinal Stenosis

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Diagnosing back pain is not something a layperson can do easily, despite how often we attempt to self-diagnose. However it is common for back pain sufferers to want to be able to pinpoint exactly what caused the pain. It makes us feel better and gives an idea what to do to avoid the pain and endless treatments in the future.

Knowing what causes spinal stenosis is not good just for purposes of treatment, but also to reduce risk factors for spinal stenosis. Although it is extremely difficult to prevent this condition, knowing what causes it can help in every phase of treatment from diagnosis to pain-free living.

Degenerative Causes

The primary cause of spinal stenosis is age. Although it is true that some are just born with smaller spinal canals, for the great majority a narrowing spinal canal is caused by some form of degeneration that comes with age. Many of the degenerative causes of spinal stenosis are caused by pre-existing back conditions that place additional stress on the healthy parts of the spine.

Spinal Arthritis can cause the spinal bones and ligaments to expand and thicken. In fact any type of long term inflammation (swelling) can cause spinal stenosis. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can cause spinal stenosis as well.

Herniated Discs can lead to a drying out of the spinal shock absorbers between the vertebrae with age. As they dry out, they are more susceptible to cracking which can cause the insides of those cushions to seep out and place pressure on the nerves or spinal cord.

Bone Spurs are caused by simple wear and tear of the spinal bones. Those spurs begin to grow into the spinal canal, forcing it to narrow to make space for the bone overgrowth. Paget’s disease may also cause the bones of the spine to make their way into the spinal canal.

Acquired Causes

Although most instances of spinal stenosis are caused by degenerative spinal problems, there are other conditions that cause spinal stenosis that are simply acquired. These may be easier to pinpoint, making diagnosis easier.

Spinal Tumors are abnormal growths that form within the spinal cord and membranes that protect it, forcing the canal to narrow to accommodate the growth. As the tumor grows, the spinal canal continues to narrow but it may also cause bone loss.

Accidents/Trauma can cause spinal stenosis by dislocating or fracturing the spine. Displaced vertebrae may simply damage the spinal canal or cause a bone overgrowth into the canal. Any excess swelling in the spinal column may also force the canal to narrow as a means to prevent more serious damage.

Ossification occurs when calcium deposits form on the longitudinal ligament located behind the spine and inside the spinal canal. The calcium deposits transform the fibrous tissue of the longitudinal ligament to bone (ossification), and they often press onto the nerves leaving the spinal canal.

Medical History

As you can see, there are quite a few different causes of spinal stenosis. These varied causes will be necessary in the diagnostic phase of treatment, which means it is up to you to provide your back specialist with all pertinent information regarding your medical history.

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If you’ve suffered a recent accident, be sure to mention it, along with any other health problems you’ve had. Since many of the causes of spinal stenosis are degenerative, past back problems will be essential to an accurate diagnosis.


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