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Back Problems Message Board

Back Problems Board Index


First, I am sorry that you are having to suffer all that pain, and I know exactly how you feel, though I am only 40. My problems first started at around age 33 or 34.

I certainly cannot give you a diagnosis, but I can tell you that, from my own experience, it sounds like you do have spinal stenosis, which can be caused from spinal arthritis, most commonly osteoarthritis. However, there are hundreds of types of arthritis so it really could be many things. Also like you, I have painful ankles, though it's most been and worst in my right ankle. I've also lost cartilage plus have spots of cartilage and bone damage in there, if I remember correctly, on the tarsal bone. My MRI looked as though I jumped off a building and damaged my foot, but I never hurt it. It just happened over the years. My ankle has also collapsed inward and I, too, have a flat and inward rolling foot.

But back to the spine, I can tell you what some of the things mean in your MRI. I believe retrolisthesis is when one vertebrae is like out of place and slips backwards over another one. Hemangiomas are benign tumors of blood vessels. I actually have a large one right on my liver that has caused me pain in the past, but nothing could be done about it. It hasn't bothered me in years, though. There's also a loss of disc height which is actually normal. Yes, it can cause problems, but everyone loses disc water and height as they age. It sounds like the most disc loss is between the L2 and L3 vertebrae. If you are not sure what L2 and L3 mean....every vertebrae in the spine is labeled with both a letter and number. Vertebrae in your neck/upper back are labeled C with a corresponding number. The numbers are just the counts of those vertebrae. For example, most lumbar spines have 5 vertebrae, so doctors denote them by labeling them as L1, L2, L3, L4, and L5. Same goes for the cervical, thoracic, and sacral vertebrae. You also have some bulging discs which might or might not be causing any pain.

The word stenosis means narrowing. From your MRI, you have some narrowing of your spinal canal, which could be caused by the disc bulges and the ligamentum flavum hypertrophy. The ligamentum flavum is a ligament that connects parts of your vertebrae together. Hypertrophy means enlargement, which usually means it thickens, so you have an enlargement of yours. If this ligament enlarges, it can also jut into your spinal canal and/or surrounding nerves. This is another problem that can cause spinal stenosis. I had a lot of thickening of mine as well as mine buckled into my canal if I tried to stand straight or lay flat. Bilateral foraminal narrowing means: bilateral means 2, so in this case, means on both sides. Each vertebrae has foramen on each side. The foramen are the openings on each side where your spinal nerves exit and branch out. So you have some narrowing of these areas. A foraminal disc proturusion means a disc has actually herniated out and into the space where the nerve exits. This most certainly can cause pain! I had this as well.
Bilateral facet arthropathy: again bilateral means 2, so in this case it means on both sides; arthropathy means disease of joints, or in other words degeneration or arthritis; Facet joints are the bones that actually connect each vertebrae together and allow for movement. So you have degenerations of these joints on both sides.

As far as spinal stenosis, I had several things that can cause it: several disc herniations, bony overgrowth of my facet joints, and other areas, thickening and buckling of the ligamentum flavum into my canal. Each of these things was causing a narrowing of my spinal canal in my lumbar spine. The actual spinal cord is not in this area - it ends around the first lumbar level, but we do have a big bundle of nerves in the lumbar spine that come off the spinal cord, which resemble a horses tail, called the cauda equina. Since the spinal cord isn't in this area, having stenosis here could not actually causes paralysis, but it can cause lots of nerve damage and even possibly bowel and bladder problems if it's bad. Spinal stenosis does make it very hard to walk, I can certainly vouch for that! And then you usually cannot walk upright, you have to bend over all the time. Even with sitting, it feels better to bend over forward. Laying down does not help either unless you lay in the fetal position, which is what I had to do.

Does it help you to lean onto a shopping cart when you walk? Does it seem to make your pain better? If you've never tried it, then I think you should. It really helps a lot. Another question...if you try to bend backwards at all, does your pain worsen? If so, that is another sign of stenosis.

My symptoms started when I was 33 or 34, and then it was just what I now know are back spasms. These would occur any time I was walking around, but the pain would come and go. Then after a while, the spasms never went away. This is by no means normal, so do not let this scare you, but in just 3 years time, I was almost no longer able to walk at all. I could walk maybe 20-30 feet at a stretch and even that was very painful and a big struggle. My spine surgeon said it was unusual to see someone my age to have this, especially since my stenosis was not just caused by herniations. I could no longer stand up straight at all, couldn't lean back, couldn't sit normal, couldn't sleep normal, was in pain all the time. No medications were helping anymore. But again, just because I got this bad, it does not mean it would happen to you as well. There are many people who get and keep having mild stenosis, while others get completely disabled by it. Again, it depends on what is causing the stenosis, etc.

I hope this gives you a better understanding at least of what all those words mean on your MRI. If your doctor is not getting back to you, especially since you already have the MRI report, then I would suggest that you see a different doctor. One who WILL listen and explain things, answer questions, and try to help you.

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