In September of 2011, I underwent a Laminectomy at L5/S1 to decompress a pinched nerve root. After the operation, my neurosurgeon told me that the pain and weakness in my lower back and leg, which I had felt for most of my life, was most likely caused by congenital Spinal Stenosis which he noticed while performing the surgery.
Spinal Stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal due to enlarging joints, thickened ligaments and bone spurs which put pressure on nerves inside the spinal column. As a result, the nerves become inflamed causing pain, weakness and numbness in the lower back and down the legs. People that have spinal stenosis usually suffer leg pain (often sciatic) or numbness when walking, and find relief from sitting or laying down as pressure on the spinal canal is reduced. The diagram below shows typical symptoms of those suffering from Spinal Stenosis.
I’ve had trouble both walking and standing from the effects of Spinal Stenosis. The Sciatic symptoms, caused by the pinching of nerves around the spinal canal, were so bad that I needed a L4/L5 Discectomy to relieve the crippling pain. And if I have to stand for more than 5-10 minutes, I’m usually shifting weight between legs or leaning on something so that I can decompress the nerves in my lower back. By the 20 minute mark, I’m usually in a crouched position, as the leg weakness is unbearable.
Here’s an excellent presentation by Dr. Brad Curt of the Mayfield Clinic in Cincinnati explaining all the ins and outs regarding Spinal Stenosis including diagnosis, treatment options and expected results. There are benefits and risks to all surgical options and as the Swedish Spinal Stenosis Study points out, the outcomes from Decompression and Spinal Fusion surgery may not be better than non-surgical treatments, though greater success has been shown for people that suffer from lumbar spondylolisthesis.
Personally speaking, I’m relatively happy with the surgeries I’ve had to treat Spinal Stenosis as I’m able to stand for longer periods without weakness and fatigue in my legs, and I’ve had fewer Sciatic symptoms since my L4/L5 Discectomy. However, it’s difficult to predict whether surgical decompression will be effective in the long run but I’ll certainly keep you posted on my progress.