Spinal Stenosis

What is Spinal Stenosis?

As the column of vertebrae that support the spinal cord narrows due to aging or wear and tear, the lack of space puts pressure on the cord and causes spinal stenosis. The slowly growing pressure most commonly develops in the lumbar, or lower middle, region of the back, so most of the symptoms are confined to the legs and regions below the waist. Most causes of spinal stenosis are degenerative and affect older people, but it can also be a congenital condition as well.

What are the Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis?

The majority of cases of stenosis cause no symptoms, or at least not in the early stages of narrowing. When the space closes in enough to block part or all of a nerve, signs appear like:

  • Numbness and pain in the legs, especially along the back of them
  • Pain in the back, usually located near the part of the spine compressing your cord
  • Trouble walking due to reduced motor function and delayed response
  • General clumsiness and stumbling.

Many people also experience the pain and numbness radiating into their buttocks. This kind of pain can also arise from sciatic nerve damage or entrapment, so it’s essential to determine which spinal issue is causing the problem since they require different treatments.

Spinal Stenosis Causes

Your backbone stretches from your neck to lower back, surrounding and cushioning the bundle of nerves inside it. If someone is born with a small spinal canal, however, it can cause spinal stenosis, where the nerves are compressed by the bones.

However, spinal stenosis is more commonly caused by factors related to age or injury. Following are some of the conditions that can lead to spinal stenosis:

  • Bone overgrowth related to osteoarthritis creates bone spurs that invade the spinal canal.
  • When the cushion between your vertebrae dries out with age, cracks can form, leading to a herniated disc. Then, the soft inner material bulges out and presses on your backbone.
  • If your spinal ligaments stiffen and thicken with age, they can bulge against the spinal canal.
  • Tumors inside the cord are rare, but show up in an MRI or CT.
  • Spinal injuries from car accidents can dislocate of one or more vertebrae.

How is Spinal Stenosis Treated?

Home treatments like careful stretching can alleviate mild symptoms if the narrowing isn’t expected to continue. For degenerative cases where paralysis or disability is possible, surgery is the most common treatment for removing bone, tumors, or other growths pressuring the spinal cord. When swelling alone is responsible for the stenosis, such as after surgery or a traumatic injury, anti-inflammatory medication and rest is often enough to solve the problem.

Spinal Stenosis Prevention

Nearly everyone develops some measure of osteoarthritis of the spine by the time they reach 50. Therefore, you can’t really eliminate the chance that you will develop spinal stenosis. However, it is possible to lower your risk factors or the severity of the condition.

Here are some ways to lower your chances of developing spinal stenosis:

  • Regular exercise strengthens the muscles supporting your lower back, which helps the spine stay supple. Exercises that are especially good include aerobic exercises such as swimming, cycling, walking and weight training.
  • Maintain good posture while sitting, walking and standing.
  • When lifting heavy objects, keep your spine straight and lift from the knees
  • Sleep on a firm mattress.
  • Maintain a healthy weight to reduce the pressure on your spine.

These habits can help your spine to remain limber and healthy for a longer time, and therefore keep spinal stenosis at bay.

Resources