Spinal stenosis is a condition in which the spinal canal becomes compressed. Within the spinal canal are nerve roots and the spinal cord; when these are compressed by spinal stenosis, it becomes very discomforting for the individual. This causes cramps, numbness and pain in the back which usually intensify over time.
Between vertebrae in the spine are soft, circular discs of cartilage, known as spinal discs, which act as shock absorbers. These are made up of a large proportion of water and are responsible for mobility and help hold the spine together. Over time, these discs are worn down and water is lost, causing osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is essentially ‘wear-and-tear’ of the body and is a common cause of spinal stenosis.
Other than osteoarthritis, there are others causes of spinal stenosis, such as Paget’s disease, herniated disks, spinal tumours and spinal injuries.
Back problems can have a serious effect on day-to-day life and can be miserable for the individual. Despite this, the good news is that there are a variety of treatments and prevention options for the condition. However, if not attended to it can be serious, causing permanent pain, serious balance issues and even paralysis.
There are many different types of the condition, depending where the pain from spinal stenosis originates from. The main two are cervical (neck) and lumbar (lower back).
As with most conditions, symptoms vary depending on the stage of the condition. Sometimes with spinal stenosis, there are no symptoms.
However, if you are experiencing any of these symptoms and you think you have spinal stenosis, it is best to seek a doctor’s advice:
- Difficulty when walking
- General leg pain
- Numbness in different parts of the body
- Lower back discomfort
- Neck pain
Moreover, you may require an X-ray, CT or MRI scan to understand further the extent of spinal stenosis. As mentioned above, sometimes spinal stenosis doesn’t show symptoms, but is then revealed through a scan.
There is, currently, no cure for spinal stenosis, but once it has been diagnosed, there are a diverse range of treatments. Some common ones are…
There are a variety of medications available from over the counter (OTC) options to prescription drugs. Prescription drugs are a popular means of treatment as they have the capacity to aid nerve pain directly.
Considered for patients whose spinal stenosis is severe and is seriously affecting daily life, surgery is an option. By creating more room in the spinal canal, the aim of the procedure is to relieve the pressure on the nerve roots. Operations to aid the condition are increasingly common and in the end, quality of life can significantly improve.
As spinal stenosis causes discomfort when moving, individuals with the condition understandably do less exercise. This, unfortunately, can be problematic as it can lead to muscle weakness, which, in turn leads to further discomfort. Physiotherapy can help prevent muscle weakness, improve balance and maintain flexibility of the spine. Targeting core strength from a physiotherapist can help support the back too.
This article is intended to inform and give insight but not treat, diagnose or replace the advice of a doctor. Always seek medical advice with any questions regarding a medical condition.