27 Apr Understanding Spinal Stenosis: Symptoms and Treatment Options
Are you dealing with back problems? You’re not alone; a 2019 national health survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 39% of adults experienced back pain that year.
Spinal stenosis is a condition that can lead to back pain and mobility issues that many people get as they get older. In this article, you’ll learn what exactly is happening in your body when you have spinal stenosis, what symptoms you can expect, and how medical professionals treat the condition.
What Is Spinal Stenosis?
Spinal stenosis is a condition that involves the narrowing or pinching of the spinal canal, which is the space within your spinal column that houses your spinal cord and nerves. The condition has many causes, including age-related changes in your spine, arthritis, and spinal injuries.
While spinal stenosis can happen anywhere along your spinal column, the most common areas are the lumbar region (lower back) and cervical area (neck).
Spinal Stenosis Symptoms
The symptoms of spinal stenosis depend on the cause and the location of the pinched spinal canal.
Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis in the Lower Back
Here are the common symptoms you might experience if you have spinal stenosis in your lower back:
- Pain when standing for a long period or walking
- Cramping in one or both legs
- Back pain and sciatica
- Tingling and numbness in buttocks, legs, and feet
- Weakness in the leg or foot
- Loss of bowel and bladder control
Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis in the Neck
If you have spinal stenosis in your neck, you might get these symptoms:
- Numbness, tingling, or weakness in the hand, arm, leg, or foot
- Problems with balance and walking
- Reduced hand function
- Neck pain
- Issues controlling the bowel and bladder
What Causes Spinal Stenosis?
There are several possibilities for how spinal stenosis develops, but the most common cause of the condition is age-related wear and tear. People over the age of 50 are most at risk of having spinal stenosis, but younger people could have a predisposition for it if they were born with a small spinal canal.
As you get older, osteoarthritis and changes in your spine can lead to damage to joints and bones that causes new bone to grow. These bone spurs can intrude on the spinal canal, putting pressure on the spinal cord and nerves.
Between each of your vertebrae, there’s a soft, round disc that acts as a shock absorber for your spine. Deterioration of the discs due to age can lead to the soft center breaking through the damaged outer layer and pressing onto the spinal canal.
The ligaments along your spine are like cords that keep your spinal column together, and they get thicker over time because of age and arthritis. As they get larger, they might start pushing on the spinal cord and nerves.
Broken or dislocated spinal bones due to a serious car wreck or other accident might invade the spinal canal area, compressing your nerves and spinal cord.
Congenital Spinal Issues
About 1,400 babies are born with a defect known as spina bifida every year in the U.S., which can cause a variety of spinal issues, including spinal stenosis.
Spinal Stenosis Treatment
Your healthcare provider can diagnose spinal stenosis by getting your medical history, conducting a physical exam to check for symptoms, and performing imaging tests like X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans.
Your doctor might try different treatment options to find what works best for you, including:
Here are several types of medications your doctor might prescribe to treat your symptoms:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): treat inflammation to relieve pain.
- Antidepressants: they help with chronic pain.
- Anti-seizure medications: reduces pain from nerve damage.
A physical therapist can walk you through exercises to accomplish the following:
- Strengthen your back and abdominal muscles for spinal support
- Increase your endurance
- Maintain the flexibility of your spine
- Improve your balance
Decompression, or needle treatment, is a nonsurgical method of removing thickened ligaments from around the spine where compression is happening.
Steroid injections help reduce inflammation and pain, but the frequency of steroid shots is limited to a few times per year because of the high risk of weakening the surrounding bones and tissue.
Surgery is typically the final option after all other treatments fail to alleviate your symptoms. The most common surgical procedures for treating spinal stenosis include:
- Laminectomy: remove the lamina (bone on the back of vertebrae) to relieve compression
- Laminotomy: create a hole in the lamina to release pressure in a specific spot
- Laminoplasty (only for the neck): detach the lamina on one side and use metal hardware to bridge the gap
Book an Appointment For Spinal Stenosis Treatment in New York
While some people with spinal stenosis don’t experience the symptoms, the condition can become worse over time and lead to a lower quality of life. If you’re struggling with back or spinal issues, book an appointment to meet with our spinal specialists so you can beat the pain.
Read our blog to learn more about spinal problems and treatments, such as the spinal specialist approach to car accident whiplash.
Our doctors accept most insurance plans, including workers’ compensation, no-fault, and PIP (personal injury protection). Same-day appointments may be available.
What is the best treatment for spinal stenosis?
The best treatment for spinal stenosis is a laminectomy, a decompression surgery that removes bone buildup in the spinal canal to make more space for the spinal cord and nerves.
What is the main cause of spinal stenosis?
Osteoarthritis, which causes wear and tear on the joints in your spine over time, is the most common cause of spinal stenosis.
How serious is spinal stenosis?
Spinal stenosis can cause a gradual loss of mobility due to weakness in the legs and back pain, which makes it difficult to stand for long periods.