Spinal Stenosis

What is Spinal Stenosis?

Spinal stenosis is a disease where the spaces within our spines narrow. It’s most commonly caused by wear and tears in the spine. People suffering from this condition are likely to suffer from osteoarthritis. That’s because as the spaces within their spines narrow, it puts pressure on the spinal nerves. This pressure is revealed in the form of pain in the lower back and the neck areas. Many people with this condition don’t experience clear symptoms at first.

As symptoms worsen over time, they experience severe pain, tingling, and numbness. Without treatment or therapy, the muscles keep weakening with time, and narrowing occurs faster. Doctors may recommend patients get physiotherapy. If physiotherapy and non-invasive remedies don’t fix the problem, surgery may be required to create extra spaces for the coiled spinal nerves.

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Spinal stenosis is a disease where the spaces within our spines narrow. It’s most commonly caused by wear and tears in the spine. People suffering from this condition are likely to suffer from osteoarthritis.

Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis

Symptoms of this condition vary from person to person. However, the most common symptoms typically include:

· Tingling pain. Unlike normal tissue pain, sufferers of this condition typically experience tingling sensations (almost like electric shocks) that radiate into the neck and the limbs. These pains flare up during certain situations.

· Numbness. Patients may experience total numbness in their backs, limbs, necks, and other areas of the body.

· Muscle weakness. Long-term patients of this condition often have trouble with strength and coordination in their arms and legs. That’s because their nerve roots running underneath their spinal cords are compressed.

· Bowel dysfunction.

Causes of Spinal Stenosis

People pick up this ailment because of one cause or a combination of multiple causes. Some of the main causes include:

· Spinal injuries. Injuries like whiplash during car accidents or back fractures can cause vertebras to dislocate. This displacement damages the contents in the spinal canal, causing swelling and bruising of nearby tissues. As a result, the spaces within the spines narrow.

· Bone Overgrowth. Paget's disease is a disease that causes bone overgrowth inside spines. This unexpected formation of bone spurs damages the spinal canal, causing it to shrink in size.

· Tumors. Just like abnormal bone growths inside the spinal cord, tumors can cause the spaces within the spine to narrow. Tumors typically stem from the membranes that cover the spinal cord. They can only be identified with spine imaging tools.

· Herniated Spinal Discs. Spinal discs are vital for movement. They absorb the shocks that vertebras experience during movement. Unfortunately, these soft cushions dry out with age, picking up minor cracks in the process. Such cracks on the spinal disc's exterior regions give room for the soft inner material inside the discs to escape. These fluids apply pressure on the spine, causing it to narrow.

· Degenerative disc disease. Spinal discs dry and flatten over time, causing the intervertebral foramina to narrow.

· Ligament damage. When ligaments, the tough cables that hold together the bones of the spine, pick up damages, they become stiff. These stiff ligaments can mistakenly bulge into the spinal canal, causing all sorts of abnormalities.

When to See a Physiotherapist? 

To understand when to see a physiotherapist, patients need to understand the normal course of spinal stenosis. The narrowing of the spaces in our spines is a normal part of the aging process. But, it doesn’t always produce clear signs/symptoms. That’s why the rate of worsening varies from patient to patient. People who are experiencing the progressive worsening of their symptoms can find relief by getting physical therapy, long resting periods, and other nonsurgical treatments.

Doctors don’t recommend surgery unless other diagnostic measures prove that the only way to cure the pain is by manually decompressing spinal nerves or the spinal cord itself. But, patients only opt for this surgery when their neurological deficits (constant pain, numbness, weakness, etc.) keep worsening, even after nonsurgical treatments,

The faster patients receive physical therapy, the lower the risk of getting spine surgery. Timely consumption of prescribed anti-inflammatory medications also reduces the need for surgery. That’s why seeking immediate medical attention from physiotherapists as soon as you experience the symptoms mentioned above is so important.

Risks or Complications with Spinal Stenosis

Most people suffering from this spinal condition are over the age of 50. Your age is a clear risk factor. Every adult over 50 should seek a physician to check the status of their spinal health. But, degenerative changes in the spine can also impact younger people.

That’s why people who’ve experienced traumatic spinal injuries or have congenital spinal deformities like scoliosis are at higher risk of picking up this condition. Not treating this condition can lead to incontinence, paralysis, constant numbness, weakness, and balance problems during movement.

How to Prevent Spinal Stenosis?

Since we can’t prevent aging, we must take all steps possible to maintain our spine health. Here are some easy ways to avoid spine-related issues:

· Regular exercise.

· Periodic visits to doctors or physical therapists.

· Daily walking, cycling, swimming, running, and other physical exercises.

· Stretching the spine keeps people flexible and limber.

· Relaxation exercises like yoga or water sports.

· Maintaining a good posture while working or while conducting activities like lifting heavy things.

· Maintaining a healthy weight.

· Avoid smoking; inhaling smoke restricts blood and oxygen circulation, which are vital for nourish our spines.

Treatments for Spinal Stenosis

Healthcare providers review the patients’ medical history and conduct appropriate medical exams. They use X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and computed tomography (CT) scans to determine the exact location, extent, and type of the problem in the spine. Then, they either recommend self-care remedies (at first), medications, physical therapy, or surgery.

Self-help remedies like applying heat or ice to the areas of pain reduce swelling, tenderness, and inflammation. Before accepting pain medications, patients must ask their healthcare providers about the possible long-term implications. For example, most prescription medicines with pain-relieving properties contain opioids that are addictive.

Physical therapy is the safest treatment for this condition. Physical therapists offer risk-free solutions. In many cases, patients use these therapies to improve their balance, flexibility, and spine stability after receiving spinal surgery. Proper physiotherapy makes the spine more flexible, which in turn helps ease the pressure on the nerves.

Related Conditions

Here are some similar conditions: central stenosis, foraminal stenosis, arthritis, spondylolisthesis, and scoliosis (spine curvature). Stenosis doesn’t qualify as a degenerative disc disease.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Do I Need to Get Surgery?
There is no urgency for surgery. But, if patients consistently experience episodic periods of pain, they must visit a licensed physician to know about the risks they face. Unless you face the risk of getting long-term nerve damage, your physician won’t rush you into surgical procedures.
2. Can Surgery Permanently Solve this Condition?
No. This condition is caused by degenerative deviations in the spine. Even after surgery, some symptoms may recur if patients don’t follow their physiotherapist’s advice.

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