Spinal Stenosis: What is it? Types, Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

It is defined as narrowing of the spinal canal, most often in the cervical (neck) area and in the lumbar region.

This condition puts pressure on the spinal cord , and patients often experience problems when inflammation of the nerves occurs as pressure increases.

While some are born with a congenital form of spinal stenosis, most patients develop this condition as part of the body’s natural aging process and due to general wear and tear on the spine.

While it may not be apparent initially, most patients will eventually feel symptoms as the condition progresses. Because spinal stenosis most often develops in the cervical or lumbar areas of the spine, it is important to be aware of differences in symptoms.

Types

Lumbar Spinal Stenosis:  May be reminiscent of sciatica. It causes tingling, weakness, numbness, and discomfort in the lower back that radiates through the legs.

Patients generally report pain and symptoms that worsen with walking and other lower-body-focused activities.

Cervical spinal stenosis: It is directly related to compression of the spinal cord (known as myelopathy ) which, in extreme cases, can cause very debilitating problems, such as weakness or even paralysis.

Additionally, patients suffering from cervical spinal stenosis may notice pain, tingling, and numbness radiating from the neck through the shoulders and arms.

The narrowing associated with spinal stenosis is usually within the spinal canal itself, the channels at the base of the spine, or the openings between the vertebrae.

All of these areas also function as passageways where sensitive nerve roots meet and where nerves enter and exit the spine. Due to the proximity of these nerves and nerve roots, even a minor narrowing can cause significant pain due to pressure on them.

Causes of spinal stenosis

Spinal stenosis can be inherited or developed.

Some of the more common causes include:

  • Aging.
  • General wear and tear due to the body’s natural aging process.
  • Genetic proposition or congenital defect.
  • Scoliosis, a curvature of the spine that puts significant pressure on the nerves and ligaments in the area.
  • Bulging and herniated discs, which cause inflammation and pain when internal gel-like material from a spinal disc leaks into the spine and compresses nearby nerves.
  • Arthritis, in which the protective cartilage that surrounds the joints wears down.
  • Sudden and unexpected trauma and / or accident.
  • Other health problems, such as spinal tumors or Paget’s disease.

While a number of underlying conditions can contribute to spinal stenosis, it is most often attributed to aging and the eventual degeneration of the spine that accompanies the aging process.

Because of this, spinal stenosis is more common in men and women over the age of 50. However, younger people who are born with a genetic predisposition or who suffer a back injury can also develop spinal stenosis.

Symptoms

There may be no initial symptoms of spinal stenosis, or they may develop slowly and get worse over time.

Symptoms to look out for include:

  • Pain and discomfort in the back and / or neck.
  • Numbness, weakness, cramps, or pain that radiates to the arms and hands or legs and feet.
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control, in certain extreme cases where great pressure is put on the nerves in the lower back.

Many of the symptoms of spinal stenosis are similar to those of other spinal conditions. It can be difficult to tell one condition from another, so visiting a spine specialist right away is essential to getting an accurate diagnosis.

Once the patient’s condition is determined, this allows our physicians to build the most effective treatment plan to restore each patient’s quality of life.

Spinal stenosis treatment

There are a variety of non-surgical treatment options for minimally invasive spinal stenosis; doctors can try one or a combination of many treatments to determine what works best for each patient.

Some of the most commonly recommended conservative options include:

Anti inflammatory drugs

Anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving medications, whether they are muscle relaxants prescribed by a doctor or ibuprofen bought without a prescription, can help relieve pain and discomfort associated with spinal stenosis.

physical therapy

Working with a knowledgeable physical therapist can help patients regain strength in their muscles and maintain flexibility and stability in their spine. Specialized exercises designed to strengthen the spine can help reduce pain.

Injections

There are a variety of steroid injections that target the precise nerve roots affected by spinal stenosis. These injections can relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and relieve pressure. In fact, most patients report feeling immediately relieved.

Vigorous

A specialized brace worn for part or all of the day can help with correct posture while taking pressure off the spine. Braces can also help force your back muscles to rest while promoting healing.