Almost 80% of Americans will experience lower back pain in their lives. Well, it is a condition that has been slowly rising in prevalence through the decades. Out of the many seeking treatment for chronic lower back pain, it is evaluated that 35% will suffer from spinal stenosis.
What is Spinal Stenosis?
Stenosis is a Greek word that means ‘narrowing.’ It is one of the most common conditions that cause low back or neck pain in adults. Spinal stenosis develops when the spinal canal or neuroforamen become narrow and compress the spinal cord or nerve roots. Basically spinal stenosis is a condition, most commonly in adults 50 and older, in which your spinal canal starts to get narrow. This compression of the cord/nerves causes inflammation and pain.
Basically spinal canal is a round vertical hole down the middle of the spinal column. Your spine consists of a series of connected bones i.e. vertebrae and shock absorbing discs. It shields your spinal cord, a significant part of the central nervous system that connects the brain to the body. The cord rests in the spinal canal formed by your vertebrae.
Causes Of Spinal Stenosis
The primary reason for spinal stenosis is degenerative disc disease, which is a condition that causes your discs to shrink in size as we age. This causes the foramen which your nerves pass through to be come occluded or pinched. Some of the other causes include:
- Buckling Of Ligament Flavum
This is a ligament that can compress the spinal cord if it buckles backwards into the spinal canal. The causes vary but can be a source of pain with spinal stenosis.
If the tumor growth touches the spinal cord, you might get stenosis.
An accident might fracture or inflame any part of your spine.
Your bones grow abnormally large and brittle. This results in narrowing of the spinal canal and nerve issues.
Some people have in-born spinal stenosis or diseases that lead to it. And for them, the condition usually begins between the ages of 30-50.
Recognizing the Symptoms Of Spinal Stenosis
It might not be easy to identify Spinal Stenosis as it may appear in the neck (Cervical Spine), upper back (Thoracic Spine), or lower back (Lumbar Spine). Although, neck or back pain might be one of the symptoms of spinal stenosis, it might not be the primary symptom. However, the other symptoms include:
- Numbness in Limb
- Difficulty in walking or remaining upright
- Back or neck pain
- Weakness in arm, leg, hand or feet
- Bladder or bowel dysfunction
So if you experience any of these symptoms, you must see a doctor. And if your doctor suspects spinal stenosis, then they might ask you to do the following tests:
- X-Ray: It provides a broad confirmation of osteoarthritic bone spurs.
- MRI: It produces a comprehensive cross-sectional picture of your spine which shows whether the spinal canal has narrowed and is impinging upon the spinal nerves.
- CT scan: It uses contrast dyes and X-ray imaging to produce a detailed image of the spine. A CT Scan might identify herniated discs, bone spurs or tumors that are pressing upon the spinal nerve.
Spinal Stenosis Treatment
If we talk about the treatment of Spinal Stenosis, your doctor might start off with non-surgical treatments. These include:
Common pain medications like aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and naproxen can offer short-term relief as all are available in low doses without a prescription. Other medications include muscle relaxants and anti-seizure medications, assist in treating spinal stenosis.
- Corticosteroid Injections
A steroid such as prednisone will be injected into your back or neck because steroids make pain go down.
Used with precision, an injection of a ‘nerve block’ can restrict the pain.
Exercise will help you improve your strength, flexibility, and balance with your regular activities. Your doctor might even recommend a physical therapist to assist you.
You might even get braces, a corset, or even a walker to help you move around when suffering from spinal stenosis.
Surgery For Spinal Stenosis
People suffering from severe cases of spinal stenosis struggle to walk or have issues with their bladder or bowel. For such cases, doctors recommend surgery. Procedures like laminectomy or a spinal fusion help in creating space between the bones and opening the vertebral foramen, thus making the inflammation go down and eliminating symptoms.
But surgery carries its own risks. You must consult your doctor about how much it can help, what is the recovery time, and more before taking the step for surgery. Moreover, many patients also go for non-traditional therapies, including seeing a spine physical therapist. See below.