Spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the spinal canal, a condition that is most common in the lower back and neck. This narrowing places pressure on the nerves and spinal cord. Spinal stenosis is most commonly caused by general wear and tear related to aging, but can also be caused by things like tumors, herniated discs, and spinal injuries. If spinal stenosis surfaces in younger patients, it is usually due to a genetic bone disease rather than wear and tear on the spine.
What are the symptoms of spinal stenosis?
There are often no noticeable symptoms of spinal stenosis, so many patients are not even aware that they have it. If symptoms do arise, they gradually worsen over time. Symptoms of spinal stenosis include pain, weakness, numbness, bladder and bowel problems, and cramping or pain in the legs that occurs after walking or standing for long periods of time. In severe cases, spinal stenosis can lead to paralysis.
How is spinal stenosis treated?
Spinal stenosis can be diagnosed by imaging tests, like an x-ray, even if there are no symptoms present. Over the counter medications like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can reduce pain and swelling. Muscle relaxers may also be prescribed, as well as antidepressants for chronic pain. Steroid injections may be used to reduce inflammation, and heat and ice therapy can provide additional relief from pain and swelling. Your doctor may recommend the use of a cane or walker to provide added stability while walking.
Physical therapy may be recommended and can be helpful for improving balance, flexibility, and strength. In more severe cases, surgery may be performed to widen the spinal canal. This is used when other approaches have not been helpful, but surgery is not always effective. An orthopedic specialist will be aware of the best treatment approaches to utilize for spinal stenosis.