What Are The Symptoms of Severe Spinal Stenosis of The L4-L5 Segment and How to Treat It?

The spine consists of 33 vertebrae stacked on top of each other. Depending on their location, the vertebrae provide different degrees of load-bearing and flexibility for the spine. 

The L4-L5 spinal segment consists of the two lowest vertebrae in the lumbar spine. It provides motion in many directions and supports the upper torso. 

L4 and L5 undergo heavy impact with day-to-day motions and are highly flexible. This makes them particularly susceptible to injury and chronic conditions, including spinal stenosis. 

In this article, we’ll explore severe spinal stenosis of the L4-L5 spinal segment and the symptoms that most commonly accompany this condition. 

Table of Contents

  • A Brief Overview of Spinal Stenosis
  • What Are The Most Common Spine Segments That Spinal Stenosis Damages?
  • What Are The Symptoms of L4-L5 Damage?
  • What is Cauda Equina Syndrome?
  • What is The Best Treatment for Spinal Stenosis at L4 and L5?
  • What Does Surgery For L4-L5 Spinal Stenosis Involve?
  • Is An L4-L5 Fusion Major Surgery?
  • Modern Alternative to L4-L5 Stenosis Surgery Fusion
  • A Brief Overview of Spinal Stenosis

    Spinal stenosis affects roughly 250,000 to 500,000 people in the United States, making it one of today’s most prevalent spinal conditions. It occurs when the open spaces in the spinal canal become narrower, potentially leading to spinal nerve impingement. Spinal stenosis may also cause spinal cord compression. 

    What Are The Most Common Spine Segments That Spinal Stenosis Damages?

    Spinal stenosis most commonly occurs in the lumbar spine, followed by the cervical spine. Although the thoracic spine may also be affected by spinal stenosis, it’s far less likely. 

    The lumbar spine includes the L1, L2, L3, L4, and L5 vertebrae. When spinal stenosis affects this area, it’s known as lumbar spinal stenosis. 

    Lumbar spinal stenosis is most often caused by age-related spinal degeneration. The natural aging process can cause several changes in the spine that trigger stenosis, including:

    • Wear and tear on the facet joints of the spine (osteoarthritis)
    • Bone spurs
    • Intervertebral disc damage (bulging or herniated discs)
    • Thickened spinal ligaments

    What Are The Symptoms of L4-L5 Damage?

    Some patients experience no symptoms from lumbar spinal stenosis. However, if this condition causes nerve impingement, it can provoke symptoms of sciatica. 

    Sciatica is a diagnosis used to characterize pain in the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve stretches from the lower back to the buttocks and down the back sides of the legs. The main symptoms of sciatica include:

    • Sharp pain that begins in the lower back and moves down the leg
    • Weakness in the leg with motion
    • Numbness in the leg, foot, and/or toes
    • Tingling and/or pins-and-needles sensation along the sciatic nerve

    Damage in the L4-L5 spinal segment may also lead to cauda equina syndrome, in severe cases

    What is Cauda Equina Syndrome?

    The cauda equina is a collection of nerve roots located in the lumbar spine. It includes nerve roots spanning from L2 to Co1 in the coccygeal spine. Cauda equina syndrome develops if multiple nerve roots included in the cauda equina are irritated or damaged. 

    Warning signs of cauda equina syndrome include:

    • Bladder and/or bowel dysfunction
    • Saddle anesthesia, which occurs when the patient loses sensation in the buttocks, perineum, and inner thighs
    • Weakness or paralysis of a nerve root
    • Sciatica
    • Sexual dysfunction

    Left untreated, cauda equina syndrome can cause permanent nerve damage. So, if you’ve been diagnosed with spinal stenosis and experience the symptoms listed above, seek out emergency medical attention.  

    What is The Best Treatment for Spinal Stenosis at L4 and L5?

    In most cases, physicians first recommend a conventional treatment plan for lumbar spinal stenosis at L4 and L5. With early intervention, many patients can recover from this spinal condition without having to undergo surgery. 

    The most common conventional treatments for spinal stenosis at L4 and L5 include:

    • Physical therapy, which may involve strengthening and flexibility exercises, stabilization, joint mobilization, heat or ice therapy, and massage
    • Lifestyle and activity modifications, such as quitting smoking and starting a low-impact exercise routine
    • Over-the-counter or prescription medications, such as NSAIDs, analgesics, anti-seizure drugs, and antidepressants
    • Chiropractic care, which focuses on improving spinal alignment with manual adjustments
    • Acupuncture, which may help stimulate the body’s natural healing process

    With that said, conventional treatment options can’t correct the narrowing of the spinal canal. Surgery is required to gain more space in the spinal canal and may be required if:

    • Conventional treatment options fail to provide relief after six to 12 months
    • The patient is at risk of permanent neurological damage
    • The patient’s symptoms are severely disabling

    What Does Surgery For L4-L5 Spinal Stenosis Involve?

    Surgery for spinal stenosis at the L4-L5 segment most commonly includes laminectomy. This procedure involves removing some or all of the lamina to create more open space in the spinal canal and alleviate nerve compression. 

    The lamina is a small piece of bone that forms part of the vertebral arch. It covers the back of the spinal canal. By removing some or all of this bony spinal component, your spinal surgery can effectively resolve symptoms of spinal stenosis. 

    Unfortunately, a laminectomy can pose the risk of spinal instability. To negate this risk, many surgeons have paired the procedure with spinal fusion. 

    Is An L4-L5 Fusion Major Surgery?

    L4-L5 spinal fusion involves positioning bone graft material in between the L4 and L5 vertebrae. This causes the vertebrae to permanently fuse over several months. After this procedure, patients have no motion at the fused segment. 

    Simply put, yes: L4-L5 fusion is a major surgery that must be performed by a neurosurgeon or an orthopedic surgeon. It’s a complex procedure, during which the patient must be under anesthesia. Additionally, the recovery process for spinal fusion can span a full year. 

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    Considering the risks and downsides of spinal fusion, many patients with L4-L5 spinal stenosis seek out ways to avoid it. Some patients may successfully achieve this feat by committing to a conventional treatment plan, including all recommended lifestyle adjustments. 

    Unfortunately, not all patients will experience relief from conventional treatments, even after several months or even years. In these cases, patients may consider spinal fusion alternatives, specifically including non-fusion implants. Modern medical technology has allowed for advanced implants that stabilize the spine after lumbar decompression without compromising the motion of the spine – Premia Spine TOPS System.

    Reach out to a reputable spine specialist in your area to learn more about the latest fusion alternatives for L4-L5 spinal stenosis.