Home | About JCVJS | Editorial board | Ahead of print | Current Issue | Archives | Instructions | Subscribe | Advertise | Contact us |   Login 
Journal of Craniovertebral Junction and Spine
Search Articles   
Advanced search   

   Table of Contents  
Year : 2019  |  Volume : 10  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 75-76  

Is the term degenerative “spinal canal stenosis” a misnomer?

Department of Neurosurgery, K. E. M. Hospital and Seth G. S. Medical College, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Date of Web Publication16-Jul-2019

Correspondence Address:
Prof. Atul Goel
Department of Neurosurgery, Seth G. S. Medical College and K. E. M. Hospital, Parel, Mumbai - 400 012, Maharashtra
Login to access the Email id

Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/jcvjs.JCVJS_43_19

Rights and Permissions

How to cite this article:
Goel A. Is the term degenerative “spinal canal stenosis” a misnomer?. J Craniovert Jun Spine 2019;10:75-6

How to cite this URL:
Goel A. Is the term degenerative “spinal canal stenosis” a misnomer?. J Craniovert Jun Spine [serial online] 2019 [cited 2023 Feb 6];10:75-6. Available from: https://www.jcvjs.com/text.asp?2019/10/2/75/262789

The terms “lumbar canal stenosis” and “cervical canal stenosis” and rarely “dorsal canal stenosis” have been widely accepted and used terminologies. These terms are suggestive of the fact that degenerative alterations in the spine lead to physical encroachment of spinal canal that compresses or deforms the spinal neural structures and produce symptoms related to radiculopathy and/or myelopathy. The word “stenosis” is indicative of the pathological events and is suggestive of the treatment format that may be necessary. Bulging discs, osteophyte formation, ligamentum flavum bulging, facet arthropathy, and similar such known “pathological” entities encroach into the spinal or neural canal and result in spinal canal or neural canal stenosis and related symptoms.

Age-related disc degeneration or reduction in its “water content” has been widely accepted to be an initiating point of pathogenesis of spinal degeneration. Disc space reduction has been incriminated to result in osteophyte formation and other spinal alterations. Modern computer-based imaging shows the compression of the spinal neural structures vividly and directs a surgeon to formulate an appropriate surgical strategy that would relieve the neural structures of compression. Accordingly, decompressive laminectomy, laminoplasty and cervical discectomy, and osteophytic resection and corpectomy have gained ground and are popularly and widely used surgical procedures.

In 2010, we identified that it is not the disc degeneration, but weakness of muscles that maintain erect human posture is the nodal point of pathogenesis of spinal degeneration.[1],[2] Muscle weakness can be related to disuse, abuse, or injury and results in vertical telescoping of the spinal segments.[3] The muscles work with their activity that is focused on the facets that are the fulcrum of the spinal movements. We related the intervertebral disc to odontoid process and identified that while the muscles form the “brawn,” the odontoid process and the intervertebral disc form the “brain” of spinal movements.[4] This can be appreciated by the fact that while majority of muscle bulk is located in the posterior spinal segments and their activity is focused on the facets, only thin and relatively insignificant muscle bundles are located in the anterior spinal segment in proximity to the vertebral bodies. Both intervertebral disc and odontoid process are like opera conductors that drive the entire show without directly playing any instrument. Listhesis of inferior facet of the rostral vertebra over the superior facet of the caudal vertebra forms the initial pathological event. As muscle weakness is not focal but is generalized, multisegmental spinal affection is a more common event. Ligamentous buckling and infolding that includes ligamentum flavum “hypertrophy” and osteophyte formation are the secondary results of facetal listhesis. Disc space reduction also appears to be a secondary event to primary facetal listhesis. In 2011, we proposed facet distraction-arthrodesis using Goel facet spacers as treatment for single/multiple-level cervical and lumbar spinal degeneration.[5],[6] A single act of facet distraction results in reversal of all known “pathological” features incriminated to be associated with spinal degeneration. The process of spinal facet distraction eventually results in restoration of spinal and neural canal dimensions. Remarkable clinical improvement in the immediate postoperative phase is the testimony to the validity of the proposed hypothesis.

As we further matured in our understanding of spinal degeneration, we observed that more than spinal neural deformation or compression, it is subtle instability-related microtrauma that results in symptoms.[7] The neural structures are remarkably elastic and supple and can easily tolerate deformity. The lateral location of the facet joints away from the neural structures and subtleness of the dislocation makes preoperative identification of instability even on dynamic computer-based imaging difficult or impossible.[8] However, clinical and radiological evidence can point toward the site of spinal instability. In cervical spine, altered cord signals can be prominent even in the absence of adjoining osteophytes or ligamental buckling. It appears that these cord signals are a consequence of vertical spinal instability. The symptoms related to both cervical and lumbar spinal degeneration are initiated on activity. In context to lumbar spine, the symptom of “claudication” pain is a frequent or a constant clinical presentation.[9] The very fact that these symptoms are not prominent at rest and are only initiated on activity is suggestive of the fact that the spinal canal is not inherently stenosed, but activity that leads to muscle exhaustion and dynamic listhesis of the facets probably initiates the symptoms. Our understanding is that it is not “stenosis” of the spinal segment that is the issue, but it is subtle, chronic, and progressive instability related to developing muscle weakness that is the initiator and propeller of clinical and radiological signs and symptoms. Essentially, it is not stenosis that is the issue, but it is muscle weakness-related spinal instability that is the problem.

Manual manipulation and physical observation of the facetal articulation is probably the only way to identify the levels of instability. Presence of osteophytes in the vicinity of the facets, open articular cavity, and excessive movements on manipulation are the indicators of instability. We observed that there could be spinal instability even in the absence of radiological features of the presence of osteophytes or ligamental buckling. High degree of clinical suspicion and experience in facetal handling and manipulation is probably the only definitive way to identify and treat the unstable spinal segments. We have identified that spinal instability is the issue and spinal stabilization is the treatment for spinal degeneration.[10],[11],[12],[13],[14] The term “spinal stenosis” should be replaced by “spinal instability” as it conveys the pathogenesis and directs the surgical treatment.

   References Top

Goel A. Facet distraction-arthrodesis technique: Can it revolutionize spinal stabilization methods? J Craniovertebr Junction Spine 2011;2:1-2.  Back to cited text no. 1
Goel A. Facet distraction spacers for treatment of degenerative disease of the spine: Rationale and an alternative hypothesis of spinal degeneration. J Craniovertebr Junction Spine 2010;1:65-6.  Back to cited text no. 2
Goel A. Vertical facetal instability: Is it the point of genesis of spinal spondylotic disease? J Craniovertebr Junction Spine 2015;6:47-8.  Back to cited text no. 3
Goel A. Treatment of odontoid fractures. Neurol India 2015;63:7-8.  Back to cited text no. 4
[PUBMED]  [Full text]  
Goel A, Shah A. Facetal distraction as treatment for single- and multilevel cervical spondylotic radiculopathy and myelopathy: A preliminary report. J Neurosurg Spine 2011;14:689-96.  Back to cited text no. 5
Goel A, Shah A, Jadhav M, Nama S. Distraction of facets with intraarticular spacers as treatment for lumbar canal stenosis: Report on a preliminary experience with 21 cases. J Neurosurg Spine 2013;19:672-7.  Back to cited text no. 6
Goel A. Not neural deformation or compression but instability is the cause of symptoms in degenerative spinal disease. J Craniovertebr Junction Spine 2014;5:141-2.  Back to cited text no. 7
Goel A. Beyond radiological imaging: Direct observation and manual physical evaluation of spinal instability. J Craniovertebr Junction Spine 2017;8:88-90.  Back to cited text no. 8
Goel A, Ranjan S, Shah A, Patil A, Vutha R. Lumbar canal stenosis: Analyzing the role of stabilization and the futility of decompression as treatment. Neurosurg Focus 2019;46:E7.  Back to cited text no. 9
Goel A. 'Only fixation' as rationale treatment for spinal canal stenosis. J Craniovertebr Junction Spine 2011;2:55-6.  Back to cited text no. 10
Goel A. Only fixation for cervical spondylosis: Report of early results with a preliminary experience with 6 cases. J Craniovertebr Junction Spine 2013;4:64-8.  Back to cited text no. 11
Goel A, Nadkarni T, Shah A, Rai S, Rangarajan V, Kulkarni A, et al. Is only stabilization the ideal treatment for ossified posterior longitudinal ligament? Report of early results with a preliminary experience in 14 patients. World Neurosurg 2015;84:813-9.  Back to cited text no. 12
Goel A. Only fixation for lumbar canal stenosis: Report of an experience with seven cases. J Craniovertebr Junction Spine 2014;5:15-9.  Back to cited text no. 13
Goel A. From “only decompression” to “only fixation” A century-long journey of surgical treatment for spinal spondylosis. J Craniovertebr Junction Spine 2018;9:219-20.  Back to cited text no. 14

This article has been cited by
1 When is inclusion of C2 vertebra in the fixation construct necessary in cases with multi-level spinal degeneration?
Atul Goel
Journal of Craniovertebral Junction and Spine. 2020; 11(4): 249
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
2 Adult idiopathic de novo lumbar scoliosis: Analysis of surgical treatment in 14 patients by “only fixation”
Atul Goel, Neha Jadhav, Abhidha Shah, Survendra Rai, Ravikiran Vutha, Saswat Dandpat, Arjun Dhar, Apurva Prasad
Journal of Craniovertebral Junction and Spine. 2020; 11(2): 124
[Pubmed] | [DOI]


    Similar in PUBMED
   Search Pubmed for
   Search in Google Scholar for
    Access Statistics
    Email Alert *
    Add to My List *
* Registration required (free)  

  In this article

 Article Access Statistics
    PDF Downloaded66    
    Comments [Add]    
    Cited by others 2    

Recommend this journal