Spinal stenosis is a condition, mostly in adults 50 and older, in which the spinal canal starts to narrow. This can cause pain and other problems.
Your spine is made up of a series of connected bones (or “vertebrae”) and shock-absorbing discs. It protects your spinal cord, a key part of the central nervous system that connects the brain to the body. The cord rests in the canal formed by the vertebrae.
For most people, the stenosis results from changes because of arthritis. The spinal canal may narrow. The open spaces between the vertebrae may start to get smaller. The tightness can pinch the spinal cord or the nerves around it, causing pain, tingling, or numbness in your legs, arms, or torso.
There’s no cure, but there are a variety of nonsurgical treatments and exercises to alleviate the pain. Most people with spinal stenosis live normal lives.
Types of spinal stenosis
The types of spinal stenosis are classified according to where on the spine the condition occurs. It’s possible to have more than one type. The two main types of spinal stenosis are:
Cervical stenosis; In this condition, the narrowing occurs in the part of the spine in your neck.
Lumbar stenosis; In this condition, the narrowing occurs in the part of the spine in your lower back. It’s the most common form of spinal stenosis.
What are the causes of spinal stenosis?
The most common cause of spinal stenosis is aging. Degenerative processes occur throughout the body as it ages. Tissues in the spine may start to thicken, and bones may get bigger, compressing the nerves. Conditions like osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis may also contribute to spinal stenosis. The inflammation they cause can put pressure on your spinal cord.
Other conditions that can cause stenosis include:
- spine defects present at birth
- a naturally narrow spinal cord
- spinal curvature, or scoliosis
- Paget’s disease of the bone, which causes abnormal bone destruction and regrowth
- Bone tumors
- Achondroplasia, which is a type of dwarfism
- Herniated discs.If the cushions are cracked, material can seep out and press on your spinal cord or nerves.
- An accident may fracture or inflame part of the spine.
- If cancerous growths touch the spinal cord, one may get stenosis.
- Nocturnal pain
- Gait disturbance
- Structural deformity
- Unexplained weight loss
- Previous carcinoma
- Severe pain upon lying down
- Recent trauma with suspicious fracture
- Presence of severe or progressive neurologic deficit
Your doctor may start off with nonsurgical treatments. These might include:
Medication: Common pain remedies such as aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen can offer short-term relief. All are available in low doses without a prescription. Other medications, including muscle relaxants and anti-seizure medications, treat aspects of spinal stenosis, such as muscle spasms and damaged nerves.
Corticosteroid injections: Your doctor will inject a steroid such as prednisone into your back or neck. Steroids make inflammation go down. However, because of side effects, they are used sparingly.
Anaesthetics: Used with precision, an injection of a “nerve block” can stop pain for a time.
Exercise: You can improve your flexibility, strength, and balance with regular activity. Your doctor may recommend a physical therapist to help you.
Assistive devices: You might get braces, a corset, or a walker to help you move about.
Some people have severe cases. They struggle to walk or have issues with their bladder and bowel. Doctors may recommend surgery for these people. Procedures such as laminectomy and laminoplasty create space between the bones so inflammation can go down.
Some things you can do to help ease symptoms of spinal stenosis include:
Exercise; Think about moderation — not 100 push-ups. Just take a 30-minute walk every other day.
Apply heat and cold. Heat loosens up your muscles. Cold helps heal inflammation. Use one or the other on your neck or lower back. Hot showers are also good.
Practice good posture. Stand up straight, sit on a supportive chair, and sleep on a firm mattress. And when you lift heavy objects, bend from your knees, not your back.
Lose weight. When you are heavier, there will be more pressure on your back.
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