If you have received a diagnosis of congenital spinal stenosis, it means that you were born with a particularly narrow spinal canal or that your genetic structure makes you susceptible to the development of spinal narrowing early in life. Since congenital spinal stenosis usually does not produce symptoms early on, most people with this condition are not aware that they have it until they reach adulthood.
To understand what it means to have congenital spinal stenosis, it helps to have a general knowledge of what spinal stenosis is and how it develops over time. As you age, it’s natural for your spinal canal to experience some narrowing. Bone spurs grow, discs bulge and ligaments thicken — all of these issues and more begin to take up space in your spinal canal. Eventually, this narrowing can press upon surrounding tissues and nerves, causing pain and other symptoms outlined below.
Congenital spinal stenosis symptoms
Most people with spinal stenosis have what’s called acquired spinal stenosis. This means they were born with a relatively normal spinal column that experienced narrowing over time as a result of the aging process. The acquired form of spinal stenosis typically occurs in people over the age of 50.
For a person with congenital spinal stenosis, however, spinal stenosis symptoms can start much earlier. If someone is born with a narrow spinal canal, even the slightest age-related changes can result in spinal stenosis symptoms. People with the congenital, or inherited, form of spinal stenosis may have symptoms in their 40s, 30s, 20s or even earlier.
Congenital spinal stenosis is rare and it cannot be detected before birth, nor can it be prevented. Additionally, its incidence crosses genders, ethnicities and body types, but it tends to be more common in shorter people and in those born with achondroplasia dwarfism.
With congenital spinal stenosis, as well as acquired spinal stenosis, the narrowing of any part of the spinal canal or spinal vertebrae places unusual pressure on the spinal cord and spinal nerve roots, and painful symptoms are usually the result.
Symptoms of spinal stenosis, whether it is congenital or acquired, can include:
- Leg cramping and weakness
- Pain radiating to the shoulders, arms, buttocks, hips, legs, toes and fingers
- Pain in the area where spinal stenosis originates, such as the lower back
- Numbness, stiffness or loss of flexibility
Spinal stenosis can be located anywhere in the spinal column, but lumbar spinal stenosis, or spinal stenosis in the lower back, is the most common form of the condition. Cervical spinal stenosis, which occurs in the neck, is also quite common.
Treatments for congenital spinal stenosis
If you have been diagnosed with either acquired or congenital spinal stenosis, your physician may have recommended a number of conservative spinal stenosis treatments, including rest, hot/cold therapy, anti-inflammatory medications or epidural steroid injections. If your case of spinal stenosis is severe, and your ability to work, exercise and travel is limited, traditional open spine surgery may have been suggested by your doctor.