Did you know that 80% of people will experience back pain at some point in their lives? Whether it's a short-term injury or chronic pain, back problems are serious. Many people who suffer from chronic back pain actually have spinal stenosis.
What is spinal stenosis exactly? This article is going to walk you through everything you need to know about this common condition.
What Is Spinal Stenosis?
Spinal stenosis occurs when the spaces between your spine get compressed. This shrinkage can put a strain on your nerves in the spinal cord. The result leads to inflammation and pain.
Spinal stenosis causes neck and back pain in adults more frequently than many other spine conditions. Although it's common, it can be debilitating to live with.
There are different kinds of spinal stenosis that impact different parts of the spine.
Cervical spinal stenosis occurs when the cushioning between the neck vertebrae shrink, which causes neck pain.
Lumbar spinal stenosis occurs when the lower spine experiences compression, which causes lower back pain. This is the most common spinal stenosis condition.
Central canal stenosis occurs when the central canal, which is the cushioning between the spinal cord and bones, shrinks. The central canal can develop spinal stenosis anywhere along the spine, but cervical and lumbar stenosis comprise most cases.
Causes of Spinal Stenosis
Spinal stenosis is usually caused by two things: aging or a back injury. However, there are multiple causes of spinal stenosis to be aware of.
When people age, the wear and tear on the body becomes more pronounced. Age-related conditions like osteoporosis (brittle bones) and osteoarthritis (arthritis in the bones) are quite common throughout the world. Osteoarthritis often leads to spinal stenosis because the cartilage that protects each bone wears thin.
If you suffer from a herniated or bulging disc, you're at risk for developing spinal stenosis. Tumors that grow on the spine can also trigger spinal stenosis.
Some unlucky folks can be born with a predisposition for spinal stenosis. If that's the case, you'll notice that the symptoms develop anywhere between the ages of 30 and 50.
Lastly, if you have an accident that causes spinal damage, you need to pay close attention to your back pain to see if spinal stenosis develops.
Spinal Stenosis Symptoms
Now that you know what spinal stenosis is and who is most likely to have it, let's identify the symptoms of spinal stenosis to watch out for. Cervical and lumbar spinal stenosis both come with their own set of symptoms.
If you suffer from cervical spinal stenosis, some telltale symptoms include the following:
- Neck pain or stiffness
- Numbness or tingling that radiates down the arm into the hand
- Numbness or tingling that radiates down the leg into the foot
- Difficulty walking or balancing
If you suffer from lumbar spinal stenosis, some telltale symptoms include the following:
- Back pain or stiffness
- Numbness, tingling, or weakness that affects the leg or foot
- Painful cramping that develops after walking or standing for an extended period that lessens after you sit
Some more general symptoms of central canal spinal stenosis include any of the following:
- Sciatica, which is a sharp pain that radiates down the back into the legs
- Incontinence, which only occurs in extreme cases of spinal stenosis where the nerve damage extends past the spine
- If you don't treat spinal stenosis, it could lead to paralysis
Diagnosing Spinal Stenosis
If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, you shouldn't hesitate to make a doctor's appointment. Your doctor will review your medical history and ask you to explain your symptoms.
If they suspect that you do have spinal stenosis, they will need to get a better look at your spine for confirmation.
Imaging tests can include x-rays, a CT scan, or an MRI scan. Each test comes with different benefits. Your doctor will help guide you to the test best suited for your medical and financial needs.
X-rays are the quickest and cheapest test, but they can only reveal if there are any bone shifts in your spine.
CT scans use x-ray technology combined with an injected dye. The dye is useful because it's able to illuminate soft tissue damage on an x-ray. This test will help your doctor determine if there is any bone or tissue damage.
An MRI scan is the most thorough, but also the most expensive. This test will give your doctor a complete view of your spine. Tumors are easily visible along with any ligament or bone damage.
How Can I Treat Spinal Stenosis?
The good news is that there are numerous treatments for spinal stenosis ranging from noninvasive to surgical. Consulting a medical professional is the best way to determine which options are best for you.
- Daily stretching
- Physical therapy
- Low-impact exercises such as swimming or yoga
- Wearing a brace or using any other assistive tool to facilitate movements
- Visiting a chiropractor
- Over-the-counter painkillers
- Epidural Steroid Injections
- Anesthetics (for extreme flareups, your doctor may inject you with an anesthetic for temporary nerve relief)
Surgery should only be reserved for extreme cases due to the risks and complications.
However, there are some surgeries that can really improve the quality of your life. Laminectomies are the most common surgical procedure to treat spinal stenosis. This procedure removes any unnatural bone growths and creates more spaces within the spine to reduce inflammation.
A Final Note on Treating Back Pain
When you're experiencing a lot of pain, all you may want to do is curl up in bed. Some people are also afraid of exercising and strength training with back pain, but these treatments are crucial for strengthening your back muscles.
Even walking for 30 minutes a day can alleviate back pain. Maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise is crucial for putting the least amount of strain on your back.
Ready to Live Pain-Free?
If you have any more questions about what is spinal stenosis, Comprehensive Spine Institute is your best resource for back problems. If you'd like to call or schedule a consultation, please contact us. We look forward to helping you achieve a pain-free lifestyle.