What is lumbar spinal stenosis?
The spinal cord is protected by bones called vertebrae, with fibrous discs between each pair. At multiple points in the spine, pairs of nerves branch out, passing through the spinal canal. Over time, parts of the passageway narrow, pressing and irritating the nerves. This stenosis can happen anywhere along the spine but is more common in the lower back or lumbar region. Doctors consider lumbar spinal stenosis a degenerative disease. This is because the bone can break down over many years, reducing the space in the spine. Bone spurs and herniated discs are other causes of lumbar spinal stenosis.
When sciatica strikes
The lumbar region of the spine contains nerves that branch off to the lower body, including the legs. Therefore, patients with lumbar spinal stenosis will notice lower back, buttocks, legs, and feet issues. Numb feet are a common symptom caused by irritation of the sciatic nerve. These symptoms are sometimes called sciatica. Other signs of lumbar spinal stenosis include reduced bladder and bowel control, erectile dysfunction (ED), and urinary incontinence.
After a specialist confirms the issue, treatments are available to reduce numb feet or other symptoms. The doctor will first recommend rest and pain medication, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or stronger opioids. Physical therapy (PT) and stretching exercises can also prove effective over time. For more severe cases, epidural injections can reduce swelling. Epidurals are typically a mixture of steroids and painkillers injected directly into the lumbar epidural space. Most patients see relief with these non-surgical techniques.
Is surgery the solution?
In some cases, numbness in the feet becomes more severe and does not respond to conservative treatment. At that point, surgery is a valuable and effective option for long-term relief. Outpatient surgery allows the doctor to address the condition using minimally invasive techniques so the patient can leave on the same day. A surgeon may perform a laminectomy, where part or all of the lamina is removed to provide breathing room for the spinal cord. If a disc is damaged, the surgeon may perform a discectomy to remove part of the disc or a spinal fusion. A combination of laminectomy and discectomy will provide the best possible outcome in many cases.
A numb-free future
Lower back pain, numb feet, and other symptoms should not be ignored. These are all signs of lumbar spinal stenosis, which can be treated if addressed early. The numbness is a sign of irritation of the nerves that travel to the legs from the lower spine. Outpatient surgery has an excellent success rate and can provide long-term relief when conservative treatment fails. Enter and exit the operating room the same day, and after a short recovery, enjoy a better quality of life.