Spinal Stenosis FAQs
What is spinal stenosis?
The spine has flexibility partly due to spaces between the vertebrae. Spinal stenosis occurs when these spaces narrow, putting pressure on the surrounding nerves and the spinal cord. In a majority of the cases, 75%, spinal stenosis manifests in the lower back, the lumbar region. In most of these situations involving the lumbar area, the narrowing of the spine will contact the nerve root. This then creates pain down the back of the leg.
What causes spinal stenosis?
There are factors that contribute to the development of spinal stenosis with the primary causes being:
- Aging Process: As the body ages, the ligaments, which are connective tissues joining the bones and the spine, will often thicken, and with that spurs may develop on the bones and push into the spinal canal. At the same time, the discs, which act as cushions between the vertebrae, may begin to break down. Also, the flat surfaces on the vertebrae that form the spinal column may deteriorate with age. The process and its cumulative effect often result in a narrowing of the spine.
- Arthritis: As this condition develops, it can have an adverse effect on the spine. Both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can be involved in spinal stenosis.
- Hereditary Factors: If someone is born with a narrow spinal canal, this can bring on an early onset of spinal stenosis. Any structural irregularities of the vertebrae can result in the spinal canal becoming narrower.
- Spondylolisthesis: This condition is known as instability of the spine, and it occurs when a vertebra moves frontward onto another. When this happens it can cause the spinal canal to narrow.
- Tumor Development: If a tumor develops in the spine, the abnormal growths of soft tissue that it creates may inflame the canal or push tissue into the canal. As these tissues grow, they can cause bone cells to become overactive, which may result in the loss of bone or the bone may become displaced. The result would be a disintegration of the framework that supports the spinal column.
- Trauma: The spine and spinal canal may become dislocated due to an accident or injury. Burst fractures may produce bone fragments that compromise the canal.
What Are the Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis?
Common symptoms associated with spinal stenosis include lower back pain and pain in the legs. This condition may also result in nerves being affected, which can comprise the muscles and feelings in the legs.
Other symptoms may include:
- Recurrent falling
- Difficulty when walking accompanied by pain
- Numbness, hot or cold sensations and/or tingling in the legs
What methods are used to diagnosis spinal stenosis?
Spinal stenosis, like other low back conditions, can be hard to evaluate due to the fact that its symptoms mirror those of other conditions. Often those who are dealing with spinal stenosis have no prior back issues and have not endured a recent injury. Leg symptoms are an important clue in the diagnosis of this condition.
If spinal stenosis is the diagnosis, then a basic treatment will first be utilized. Treatment may include prescribed changes in posture and the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. However, if these do not remedy the condition, then an imaging study may be utilized in order to determine what is causing the condition. Thus an MRI, CT scan, or a myelogram be performed. Imaging studies will enable an accurate diagnosis of what is causing the condition.
What types of treatments are used for spinal stenosis?
There are a range of treatment possibilities with the simpler, noninvasive procedures preferred. Types of treatments may include:
- Posture Alterations: There are various techniques that patients can learn to utilize to help lessen or eliminate the pain associated with spinal stenosis. Flexing the spine by leaning forward while walking often works to relive symptoms. When lying down, if one draws their knees to their chest they may find pain is reduced. Using these position alterations enlarges the space between the nerves, which then helps to reduce the occurrence of pain.
- Medications: If pressure on the nerves is caused by swelling then anti-inflammatory drugs may prove to be helpful. Drugs that are often used include aspirin or ibuprofen.
- Rest: At first, one may be advised to rest, and once the pain begins to recede physical activity, specifically aerobic exercise, is recommended. Activities are resumed gradually. A commonly prescribed activity is bicycling.
- Injection Therapy: Targeted injections of steroids or other agents may be used to help repair the damage and stabilize the condition.
- Surgery: If other treatments prove to be ineffective, then surgery may be recommended to take the pressure off the nerves.
- Physical Therapy: Physical Therapists help decrease the pain caused by spinal stenosis and allow the patient to gradually resume normal activities. Treatment involves physical and mechanical means. This will help improve range of motion, increase strength, and prevent progression of the condition.