Spinal stenosis is the narrowing of spaces in the spine that causes pressure on the spinal cord and nerves.“The type of treatment you receive for spinal stenosis may vary, depending on the location of the stenosis and the severity of your signs and symptoms,” says Dallas Fort Worth Minimally Invasive Spine Surgeon, Douglas Won, MD. “From supervised physical therapy to surgery, we find the best path to pain relief for each patient.” About 75% of spinal stenosis cases occur in the lumbar spine (lower back). Many times, the narrowing of the spine associated with stenosis compresses the nerve root, which can cause pain in the legs. Treatment for spinal stenosis is different for each patient.
What is the cause of Spinal Stenosis?
- Heredity– Although rare, some people are born with congenital spinal stenosis. Structural deformities of the vertebrae can cause narrowing of the spinal canal. For example, if the spinal canal is too small at birth, symptoms of spinal stenosis may show up at a relatively young age.
- Aging– Most cases of spinal stenosis are due to the wear-and-tear of the body that comes with age. As we age, the body’s ligaments can thicken. The cushioning disks between the vertebrae may begin to deteriorate. The facet joints (flat surfaces of each vertebra that form the spinal column) may begin to break down. All of these factors can cause the spaces in the spine to narrow.
- Trauma– Some cases of spinal stenosis are due to accidents and injuries that dislocate the spine and spinal canal.
- Arthritis– Two forms of arthritis that may cause spinal stenosis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
- Tumors of the spine– Abnormal growths of soft tissue may affect the spinal canal by causing inflammation or by the growth of tissue into the canal, therefore narrowing the canal.
What Are the Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis?
Spinal stenosis can be difficult to diagnose symptoms can be caused by other conditions.
Usually, people who develop stenosis have no history of back problems or any recent injury. A common symptom of spinal stenosis is a pain in the lower back or legs as stenosis may pinch the nerves that control muscle power and sensation in the legs.
Additional symptoms may include:
- Pain when walking
- Frequent falling
- Problematic bladder or bowel movements
- Numbness and tingling in the legs
How Is Spinal Stenosis Treated?
- Posture Changes– People with spinal stenosis may find that flexing the spine by leaning forward while walking relieves their symptoms. For example, leaning on a shopping cart or walker while walking. Lying with the knees drawn up to the chest also can offer some relief.
- Medications– Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS) such as aspirin or ibuprofen may help relieve symptoms. For severe episodes of nerve-related pain, a short-term course of narcotic medication may be helpful.
- Rest– Rest, followed by a gradual resumption of activity, can help. Aerobic activity such as bicycling while leaning forward on the handles are recommended.
- Surgery– For extreme cases, surgery may be considered. Decompression surgery may relieve the pressure on affected nerves.