Most people are aware that the spine entwines with many nerves. These nerves can become irritated in a few ways, but for those suffering from spinal stenosis, the spine itself is the cause of this pain. This article will look at the causes of spinal stenosis, as well as the available treatments and next steps sufferers can take in order to improve their condition.
What is Spinal Stenosis?
Defined by a narrowing of the spinal column, spinal stenosis occurs when the bones of the spine begin to compress the nerves that run through them. The result is that the impaired nerve starts to have less functionality, resulting in pain and numbness. This can occur in three different areas:
- The cervical spine
- The lumbar spine
- The thoracic spine
The area affected will determine which nerve is impaired, but the symptoms will be similar in many regards, no matter which region of the spine has narrowed.
For instance, in sufferers where the lumbar spine has narrowed, there is an increased likelihood of back pain, but similar symptoms may occur if the thoracic spine had been affected.
Causes and Symptoms
This condition typically develops slowly. Spinal stenosis is almost always the result of some form of a degenerative disease that affects the spine. These diseases do not appear overnight, but instead, gradually develop as the patient ages.
Arthritis is the primary cause of this condition. The gradual loss of cartilage can result in things like bone spurs or ligament tissue thickening. Resultant from these developments, the spinal column becomes too narrow to accommodate the nerves properly.
While arthritis is the main culprit, spinal column narrowing can also result from things like disc herniation and inflammation caused by injury. In these cases, the onset may be sudden rather than slow in its development.
Symptoms can vary depending on the severity of the pressure placed on the affected nerve, as well as the spinal area in which the narrowing has occurred. Typical symptoms include:
- Tingling sensations
While these symptoms may manifest in different areas, they will be similar regarding the sensation sufferer’s experience.
The sensations may be constant, but it is common for these symptoms to worsen with certain movement. Because the spinal column has narrowed, shifting the position of the spine can increase the pressure on the nerves being compressed, resulting in increased pain or tingling.
Treatments and Next Steps
Treatment for spinal stenosis is multifaceted and will vary depending on the underlying causes of the condition. Almost all approaches will include some form of exercise plan. By strengthening the muscles around the affected spinal area, the patient’s spine can be held in a more comfortable position, which may help ease symptoms.
Most of the time, activity modification will also be a component of treatment. Avoiding movements which aggravate the compressed nerve will be essential to preventing worsening symptoms.
Medications may be incorporated in treatment as well. Anti-inflammatory medication may help reduce compression caused by injury, as inflammation can be the cause of the narrowing involved with spinal stenosis. Pain medication may also be used to reduce the associated nerve pain.
While medication can help in some cases, use should always occur under the care of a professional medical provider. Consult your physician if you think medication may be helpful.
In severe cases, surgery may be required to achieve an adequate quality of life for the patient. Surgery should be a last resort and you should discuss this with a caring and knowledgeable medical provider.
If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms similar to those listed above, schedule a consultation. Dr. Atwater, our spine specialist, can help with diagnosing and treating this condition so you can get back to a pain-free life.