If you think of your spinal column like a highway, where there’re plenty of nice wide lanes for traffic to flow freely in either direction, Spinal Stenosis is what happens when the road crew closes a couple of lanes. The traffic piles up, cars have nowhere to go and you find yourself in the middle of an agonizing wait. With stenosis of the spine, your pain is caused by the reduction of the space available for your spinal column and nerves.
What Causes Spinal Stenosis?
As with many conditions that lead to back pain, spinal stenosis has a variety of causes. It most commonly occurs in the neck and lower back. Some common causes of decreased spinal canal space are:
- Normal wear and tear changes to the aging body
- Herniated disc
- Congenital spinal defects
- Compression trauma or other spinal cord injuries
Typically the space within the spine will gradually reduce, and as more pressure is put on the spinal column and nerves, symptoms will increase in frequency and severity. It is normal for people to not realize they have a condition like stenosis because symptoms are infrequent and seem unrelated.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Spinal Stenosis
Because stenosis can occur in any part of the spine, there are many common symptoms – but people will have different experiences depending on where their spinal canal has narrowed and which nerves are affected by the compression. Typical symptoms of stenosis will worsen when you are standing, walking, or running, and can include:
- Numbness in the legs, neck, shoulders, buttocks or back
- Cramping in part of an arm or leg
- Weakness in part of a limb
- Poor coordination or balance
- Problems with bowel and/or bladder control
If we think your symptoms are related to stenosis, you’ll have a basic neurological exam along with either a spinal x-ray series and/or a spinal MRI or CT scan.
Spinal Stenosis Treatment
The good news is that as serious as those symptoms seem, stenosis of the spine is often managed without invasive procedures. The first step toward a healthy back is learning to care for your spine properly. Spinal decompression, along with targeted stretching and specific exercises, can help manage your symptoms, strengthen your body, and improve overall well being.