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Spinal Stenosis: Diagnosis, Symptoms, and Treatment After an Accident

Updated November 3, 3022

In a crash or other type of severe accident, it’s common for victims to experience neck pain, back pain, and even injuries to their spinal column. Discs in particular are vulnerable to sudden jolts or twists, causing them to bulge or rupture.

Spinal stenosis vs. a healthy spine.

What Is Spinal Stenosis?

Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the space within your spine, which can put pressure on the nerves traveling through it.

Your spinal nervous system is interwoven between the bony vertebrae running along your back. Damage to any part of the spinal column, including discs and facet joints, can compress or irritate nearby nerves.

Some people with spinal stenosis experience pain, tingling, numbness, and muscle weakness. Others may not have any symptoms. Symptoms can worsen over time.

Types of Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis is often classified based on where the injury has occurred on the spine. It is possible to have more than one type of spinal stenosis. Most spinal stenosis injuries fall under two main categories:

  • Cervical stenosis - The narrowing of the spine occurs in the neck.
  • Lumbar stenosis - The narrowing of the spine occurs in the lower back and is the most common form of spinal stenosis.

Spinal Stenosis Symptoms

Symptoms for spinal stenosis vary from person to person and the location of the stenosis. They can develop slowly over time, come and go, occur during certain activities, or feel relieved by resting or bending forward.

In the neck, cervical spinal stenosis may cause:

  • Bowel or bladder dysfunction (urinary urgency and incontinence)
  • Neck pain
  • Numbness or tingling in a hand, arm, foot, or leg
  • Problems walking and balancing
  • Weakness in a hand, arm, foot, or leg

In the back, lumbar spinal stenosis may cause:

  • Back pain
  • Numbness or tingling in a foot or leg
  • Leg pain or cramping when you stand for long periods of time or walk
  • Weakness in a foot or leg

Causes of Spinal Stenosis

The bones of the spine form a protective bridge around your spinal cord. Pressure or traumatic damage can narrow this space. Common causes include:

  • Bone spurs - Overgrowth and osteoarthritis can form bone spurs, tiny uneven nodules that grow along the spinal canal.
  • Herniated discs - These soft cushions sit between each vertebra and act as shock absorbers. Pressure or tears can cause the inner part of the disc to leak out and press against the spinal cord or nerves.
  • Thickened ligaments - These tough fibers can become stiff and thick over time, bulging into the spinal canal.
  • Tumors - The spread of cancerous growths can put pressure on the spine.
  • Spinal injuries - Car accidents, falls, work accidents, and other traumatic events can dislocate, fracture, or twist the spine. Swelling after an accident or spinal surgery can also put pressure on the spinal cord and nerves.

Spinal Stenosis & Car Accidents

Car accidents are traumatic events. The force of a crash can cause spinal bones to move out of place or break. Shifting vertebra and swelling can put pressure on the spinal cord and branching nerves.

In addition to spinal stenosis, there may be multiple back and spinal injuries present, including soft tissue damage (whiplash), bulging discs, dislocation of vertebra, and facet joint tearing.

If you are experiencing tingling in your limbs, bladder control issues, bowel dysfunction, or severe back pain after a car accident, you should see a doctor right away.

Spinal Stenosis Treatment

Left untreated, spinal stenosis may get worse and cause permanent damage (numbness, weakness, balance problems, incontinence, or paralysis).

To diagnose spinal stenosis, your doctor will ask questions, examine you, and may order imaging tests. X-rays can reveal bone abnormalities such as spurs or fractures; MRIs produce a highly detailed cross-section of the spine to pinpoint damage to discs and ligaments; and CT scans combine multiple X-ray images and sometimes contrast dye to highlight any damaged areas.

Once an accurate diagnosis has been reached, your doctor will recommend treatment options they believe are appropriate based on the severity of the spinal stenosis. Conservative treatment will not cure the condition, but it may be enough to manage to eliminate spinal stenosis symptoms.


Your doctor may prescribe pain relievers, antidepressants, anti-seizure drugs, or opioids to reduce the pain caused by damaged nerves.

Physical Therapy

After suffering spinal stenosis, many people tend to become less active in an effort to manage or avoid pain. But a lack of exercise and movement can lead to muscle weakness, which will only lead to more pain.

A physical therapist can recommend exercises to build strength and endurance, enhance the flexibility and stability of the spine, and improve balance.

Steroid Injections

Nerve roots may become irritated and swollen in the spots where they are being pinched or crushed. Steroid medication can be injected into the site to temporarily reduce inflammation and spinal stenosis pain.

Corticosteroid injections won’t fix the stenosis and can only be performed a few times a year because they can weaken bone and connective tissues.

Alternative and Home Remedies

Your doctor may recommend several at-home treatment methods, such as over-the-counter pain relievers, hot or cold packs, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising and stretching, and using a cane or walker.

You may also like to try therapeutic massages, chiropractic treatment, or acupuncture. Talk to your doctor about your condition and discuss with them the various options that would best fit your symptoms.


Surgery may be needed if other treatments haven’t helped or your symptoms have become disabling. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience numbness or weakness that radiates into the arms or legs, or loss of bowel/bladder control.

Different procedures are designed to relieve pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots by creating more space. Spine surgeries result in few complications if performed by a highly experienced surgeon.

Types of spinal stenosis surgical procedures include:

  • Laminectomy - For this procedure, the back part of the affected vertebra called the lamina is removed. A laminectomy may be referred to as decompression surgery. In some cases, the vertebra may need to be fused with another and linked with a metal graft to maintain spinal strength.
  • Laminotomy - This procedure removes only part of the lamina, the surgeon usually cutting a hole in the bone just large enough to relieve pressure in the affected area.
  • Laminoplasty - This kind of procedure is only performed on the neck vertebrae. It opens up space along the spine, the gap bridged by metal hardware.
  • Minimally invasive surgery - This type of surgical approach removes bone in a way that is less damaging to nearby tissue and is less likely to involve spinal fusion. Fusions are useful, but they pose risks such as inflammation and pain. Minimally invasive surgery also has a shorter recovery time.

Often, surgery reduces spinal stenosis symptoms and provides relief. But there are always risks, such as infection, membrane tears, a blood clot developing in a leg vein, and neurological side effects. Discuss the risks and benefits with your treatment team.

Was Your Spinal Stenosis Injury Caused By an Accident?

Spinal stenosis can be caused by traumatic events like a severe car accident or workplace fall, leaving you with pain and side effects you have to manage, possibly for the rest of your life.

That isn’t fair. Your quality of life has been diminished and you deserve compensation for what happened to you.

If your suffering was caused by another person’s carelessness or negligence, the Atlanta personal injury lawyers at Gary Martin Hays & Associates can help. We can recommend highly qualified doctors to treat you for your spinal injury and protect you from the insurance company and bill collectors.

You deserve relief: physically, financially, and emotionally. Let our spine injury lawyers take care of the legal hassles so you can focus on feeling better.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to us with any questions you have about your personal injury claim. Call (770) 934-8000 for a free, confidential consultation regarding your rights and our services.

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