Stenosis of the spine is a condition that results from the narrowing of the spine. Spinal stenosis can be a debilitating condition that causes pain, decreased quality of life, weakness, and increased medical costs.
If you are new or have recently been diagnosed with spinal stenosis, continue reading to learn the anatomy of your spine, how spinal stenosis occurs, as well as the symptoms, diagnoses, and available treatments.
Bone Spurs and Soft Tissue Overgrowth pinch nerves in Spinal Stenosis
Understanding the Spine and Spinal Stenosis
There are 33 vertebrae that make up the human spine. The spinal canal is where the spine runs through the vertebrae, and the lower part of the spine has the crucial nerves that supply feeling and strength to the lower body.
The spine is divided into three basic sections:
Cervical–First 6 vertebrae in the neck region Thoracic–Middle 12 vertebrae in the upper and mid-back region Lumbar— Last 5 vertebrae in the lower back region.
In the space between the vertebrae are the spinal facet joints and intervertebral discs made of cartilage. These discs allow slight movement of the spine and hold the vertebrae together. Stenosis of the spine begins when the discs start to wear down and lose fluid.
The degeneration of the discs creates an abnormal motion of the spine; the spine tries to compensate by generating bone spurs and thickened ligaments. These changes lead to the narrowing of the spinal canal, which is, in fact, spinal stenosis. Spinal canal stenosis can affect any part of the spine, but is common in the cervical and lumbar regions.
What causes Spinal Stenosis?
There are several possible causes of spinal canal stenosis. It can begin as early as birth, especially if an individual is genetically predisposed to the condition.
Other causes include poor body mechanics, posture, obesity, smoking, poor diet, and physical trauma. Some diseases may also lead to spinal stenosis, such as osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and scoliosis. In most cases, spinal stenosis occurs with age as the vertebrae gradually soften.
The MRI image on the left shows a wide open spinal canal (in white). The image on the right shows a canal with spinal stenosis being narrowed by excess bone and soft tissue from arthritis.
The symptoms of Spinal Stenosis
The condition does not always cause noticeable symptoms. As a matter of fact, patients may display severe spinal stenosis on X-ray or MRI imaging, but fail to have symptoms. If symptoms are present, they may include nerve compression (which leads to pain and numbness in the back and/or legs), stiffness resulting in limited mobility, or leg cramping. Usually, the pain or cramping is relieved with bending or sitting.
Weakness of the legs may also occur. In rare instances, spinal stenosis may cause bowel and bladder issues. Symptoms tend to worsen with prolonged standing or walking. If spinal stenosis affects the neck or cervical area, headaches, pain, and weakness of the arms and hands and upper extremities may occur.
How is Stenosis of the Spine Diagnosed and Treated?
In order to diagnose spinal stenosis, a physician takes a patient’s complete medical history and performs a diagnostic physical exam. He may then order an X-ray to reveal any evidence of narrowed discs or thickening of the joint. An MRI or CT scan may also be used for detailed evaluation and identification. When the physician determines that an individual has spinal stenosis, he will usually explore nonsurgical treatments first. It is a quality of life condition, and surgery is not an absolute.
Epidural Injections work well for spinal stenosis over 75% of the time.
Nonsurgical treatments may include:
Oral or injected anti-inflammatory medications to reduce swelling
Analgesic medications to reduce pain
Neurogenic Medications such as Lyrica/Neurontin
Non-prescription medications including aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen
Epidural steroid injections of cortisone
Physical therapy and exercise to increase strength, endurance, and flexibility
Prevention of Lumbar Spinal Stenosis
If the stenosis of the spine is a result of a genetic predisposition, patients can try preventive measures to help fend off the condition, such as:
Maintain good posture
Bend the knees while lifting
Regularly stretch the back to remain flexibility
Sleep on a firm mattress
Remain physically active, especially with age.
If you or a loved one is suffering from Spinal Stenosis and would like the best nonoperative help, contact Texas Pain Network today. The practice has several Board Certified San Antonio pain doctors, chiropractors and physical therapists offering top treatment.
Call the top San Antonio spinal decompression therapy center today at (210) 202-4030.