What is Spinal Stenosis?
Spinal stenosis, or spinal narrowing, is a condition in which there is an abnormal narrowing of the spine. This results in pressure on the spinal cord and nerves. Spinal stenosis can occur in several areas: the cervical (neck), thoracic (chest, middle of the back) or lumbar (lower back). However, the condition most commonly occurs in the lumbar spine.
While spinal stenosis can occur in younger people (such as those born with a narrowing of the spine or who suffer a spine injury), the common age of onset is over 50, with the vast majority over age 60. There are more than 200,000 cases per year.
Spinal stenosis can be inherited (congenital) or acquired; thus there is a mixture of causes that reflect the source of the condition. The most common cause, however, is osteoarthritis, a degenerative form of arthritis that affects 27 million Americans. A list of causes is below:
- Achondroplasia (defective bone formation)
- Bone overgrowth (due to osteoarthritis or Paget’s disease)
- Herniated discs
- Spinal injuries
While a minority of people do not feel any symptoms of spinal narrowing, most will eventually notice pain, weakness or numbness due to the progression of the condition that happens with the aging process.
Characteristic of symptoms is that they:
- Develop slowly, over time
- Are intermittent, not continuous
- Occur particularly during certain activities, such as walking or cycling
- Are worse in certain positions, such as standing for long periods of time
- Abate when sitting, lying down or bending forward
Cervical spinal stenosis symptoms include:
- Neck pain
- Tingling or numbness in the arm, hand, leg or foot
- Weakness in the arm, hand, leg or foot
- Difficulty walking and with balance
Lumbar spinal stenosis symptoms include:
- Pain in the back, legs and buttocks that is worse when standing
- Numbness, tingling and weakness in the foot or leg
- Cramping or aching in the calves
- Pain while walking or standing for long periods, or leg pain while exercising
- Cramping or muscle weakness
In severe cases of cervical or lumbar spinal stenosis, there may be impaired bowel or bladder function (urinary urgency and incontinence).
The thoracic spine is joined at the ribs, making this version of spinal stenosis different than the other two. The activity that is primarily affected with thoracic spinal stenosis is rotation, and side-to-side movement since this portion of the spine controls that activity.
Symptoms of thoracic spinal stenosis include:
- Aching in the legs creating walking difficulty
- Pain in the affected area of the back
- Pain in one or more of the internal organs
- Radiating pain down the back or legs
- Rib pain
Treatments for spinal stenosis range from lifestyle measures to over-the-counter medications and even surgery. Pain management employs a wide variety of treatments to offer relief of symptoms. These include:
- Exercise and physical therapy. These techniques strengthen the supporting muscles of the spine (abdominal and back muscles), build endurance and help to maintain spinal motion. All of these activities help spinal stabilization as well. For aerobic activity, walking, swimming or cycling may be encouraged.
- Ice or heat therapy. Cold can help reduce inflammation, numb tissues and dull nerve impulses. Heat can relax the muscles and stimulates blood flow.
- Lumbar brace. A brace can provide support and assist with regaining mobility.
At Nova Spine & Pain Centers, we employ a variety of relevant and helpful treatments for the symptoms of spinal stenosis. These include:
Is Spinal Stenosis Reversible?
There are some measures that are helpful to improve the symptoms of spinal stenosis and to avoid worsening of the condition. In addition to helpful treatments such as those mentioned above, practicing good mechanics is one of the best ways to prevent progression of spinal stenosis. Together with exercise, correct posture should be practiced at all times, including for sitting, walking, lifting, bending and sleeping. This will help reduce abnormal pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots.
Explore relief of pain from spinal stenosis and other conditions at Nova Spine & Pain Centers.