Spinal stenosis is a condition where the inside of the spinal canal narrows. It is mainly attributed to aging and changes in your spine. The gradual wear and tear on the different parts of your spine causes enlargement of the joints near the spinal canal, thickening of the spinal ligaments and bulging of the discs. These results from the degenerative developments in your body can occupy space inside your spinal canal and cause pressure on your spinal nerves. People over 60 years of age are mostly affected by these changes. Spinal stenosis usually brings about back and leg pain that are felt with normal body movements and activities such as walking.
Causes of Spinal Stenosis
Years of wear and tear on the spine of older people cause spinal stenosis. The degenerative changes that occur during this process include bulging discs, bone spurs, thickened ligaments and hypertrophy or enlargement of the facet joint. The combined effects of bulging discs, bone spurs and thickened ligaments present potential risks of the spinal cord being squeezed inside the spinal canal.
Younger people who are born with abnormally narrow spinal canal are also at risk of the symptoms of spinal stenosis. Too narrow spinal canal will make your spinal nerves prone to stress from even minor crowding inside the spinal canal.
Two general symptoms of spinal stenosis depend on the areas in your spine affected by the pressure. Radiculopathy or pinched nerve in your neck usually causes symptoms only in your arms and neck. Pressure on an irritated nerve root may cause pins and needles sensation in the area associated with the nerve root. Myelopathy or pressure on your spinal cord can cause symptoms in your arms and leg. Feeling of numbness and weakness are normally experienced with this symptom.
Treatment of Spinal Stenosis
Spinal stenosis is a progressive back problem that can be treated with various therapy options for the relief of the pain. Depending on the seriousness of the condition, there are several treatment options available. Here are the common therapies in treating spinal stenosis:
- Analgesics – An example is acetaminophen to relieve pain.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) – A doctor may prescribe aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen or indomethacin to relive pain and reduce inflammation. NSAID may induce side effects to the patient, such as stomach problems, high blood pressure, skin rashes, heart, liver or kidney problems especially after prolonged use.
- Corticosteroid injections – These are administered to the patient into the outermost membranes that cover the spinal cord and nerve roots. The injections aim to reduce inflammation and relieve pain radiating to the hips or down the leg.
- Anesthetic injections – Known as nerve blocks, these are directed to the affected nerve for temporary pain relief.
- Restricted activity – Depending on the severity and location of your stenosis, activities that make your symptoms worse are controlled. These activities could be standing for a long period of time or walking downhill.
- Prescribed exercises – The aims of the exercises prescribed are to maintain motion of the spine, build endurance and strengthen back and abdominal muscles to ultimately help stabilize the spine.
- Reduction of extra weight – Losing weight can relieve your symptoms and can slow the progression of the stenosis.
- Lumbar brace – This is sometimes recommended for patients with weak muscles of the abdomen and the elderly with degeneration at different levels of the spine.
- Physical therapy – The overall goal of the treatment is to make you as comfortable as soon as possible and to support for your self-care.
- Chiropractic care – This treatment may be beneficial when symptoms are not relieved with simple measures and medication. A chiropractic adjustment gets the joints moving normally, balances out the nervous system, and leads to a reduction in the symptoms. A typical chiropractic care plan will also incorporate flexion-based exercise program to go with the chiropractic adjustment.
- Surgery – Although most cases do not need this treatment, it is employed in the worst case, such as when you experience increased weakness in your arms and legs, cannot walk, or use your arms without considerable pain or the condition has caused control problem with your bowels or bladder.
The source and the condition of the spinal stenosis dictates the treatment option to take. Patients can work with a health care provider to reduce the symptoms and help improve their quality of life.