What is stenosis?
As we age, degenerative changes within the spine can lead to narrowing of the spinal canal. The narrowing canal can cause pressure on the spinal cord or other nerves. Often times, sitting or bending forward causes a reduction in symptoms. If the stenosis occurs in the lower back, it may affect bowel or bladder function. Stenosis occurring in the neck may lead to loss of fine motor control in the arms and hands
What causes stenosis to occur?
Spinal stenosis is most commonly caused by wear-and-tear changes in the spine related to aging. As people get older, the bands of tissue that support the spine may get thick and hard, resulting in more pressure and less space available within the spine. Narrowing of the spine canal may be genetic.
Other causes of spinal stenosis include:
- Spinal tumors
- Spinal injuries
- Bone diseases
- Calcium deposits on ligaments
- Disc bulges
What are the symptoms?
There may be no symptoms of spinal stenosis, or symptoms may appear slowly and worsen over time. Signs of spinal stenosis include:
- Pain in the neck or back
- Numbness, weakness, cramping or pain in the arms or legs-particularly when walking or standing
- Pain going down the leg
- Foot problems
How is it diagnosed?
Spinal stenosis can be difficult to diagnose because its signs and symptoms resemble those of many age-related conditions. Your physician will conduct a physical examination to determine where your pain is coming from and do a full review of your medical history.
Your physician may use a variety of diagnostic tools to confirm spinal stenosis. These may include x-rays, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), CT scans and possibly injections. Electromyography (EMG) testing may also be used to assess nerve conduction.
How is spinal stenosis treated?
There are many nonsurgical treatments for spinal stenosis. Your doctor may prescribe:
- Medicines to reduce swelling
- Medicines to relieve pain
- Rest and activity modification
- Exercises and/or physical therapy
- A brace for your lower back
- Epidural steroid injections can be very helpful in relieving symptoms
Surgery may be eventually considered when extensive non-surgical treatment no longer is effective.
What can I do at home to help relieve symptoms?
In many cases, changing posture and using spinal injections can control the symptoms for a long period of time. Pain can be relieved by flexing forward and bending over. Taking anti-inflammatories may be beneficial, especially ibuprofen products like Advil or Nuprin.
Dr. Clary explains why a surgical referral can be helpful, even for patients who don’t want surgical treatment for spinal stenosis pain.
Most back pain can be traced back to a problem with a disc in the spine. Disc issues fall into three common conditions: spinal stenosis, disc bulges, and disc herniations. We explain what spinal stenosis is and how it occurs.