Do you experience burning sensations in your neck, shoulders, or arms? What about tingling, or numbness in your hands? If so, then you may have spinal stenosis.
What is Spinal Stenosis?
Spinal stenosis occurs when the space inside your spine narrows. This narrowing will trap and put uncomfortable pressure against your nerves, and most often occurs in the lower back and the neck.
There are two branching ways that the spine can put pressure on nerves.
The first branch is the spinal cord itself collapsing, most often caused by osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis wears down the discs between vertebrae and the vertebral body itself. Otherwise known as ‘the wear and tear’ disease, osteoarthritis is the most common joint disorder in the United States. Collapsing can also occur with herniated discs, trauma to the spine from accidents, and a malformed spine from scoliosis.
The other branch involves some element inside the cord expanding to push against the nerves. This can take the form of a spinal tumor, bone spurs—which are common in people over 60—and the strong ligaments in your back thickening with age.
Spinal Stenosis Risk and Symptoms
Most cases of spinal stenosis occur in people over 50, and women are at a higher risk than men. The symptoms include pain, numbness, and weakness typically located in the lower back and neck. This pain can either be dull or it can be electric-like and spread to the legs and arms.
However, spinal stenosis may have no symptoms, so if you have had spine trauma of any kind, you may want to ask your doctor for an MRI.
Severe, untreated cases of spinal stenosis can result in permanent numbness, stiffness, or paralysis.
Spinal Stenosis Treatment
While there is no cure for spinal stenosis, it can be treated in a variety of ways.
- Physical therapy is the first and safest option for many people. Therapists will teach you how to be cautious when you lift heavy objects and what activities put excess pressure on your spine.
- Sleep on a firm mattress, which will support the natural curve in your spine. In the same vein, back braces keep you from unnatural, painful movements.
- Do exercises that strengthen your legs, stomach, and back giving additional support to your spinal cord. Walking, swimming, weight training, and cycling all strengthen your back. Be sure to stretch properly before exercising both for the exercise itself and the benefits extra flexibility can give your back.
- Stay at a healthy weight. Excess fat can put strain on your spine that leads to stenosis. Thankfully, many of the same exercises that strengthen your back also burn calories.
- Simple home treatments such as hot packs, ice packs, and hot showers can help relax tension built in and around your cord.
If you have stenosis because of inflammation in your ligaments or the tissue surrounding your spinal nerves, anti-inflammatory medications can reduce pain and swelling. When taking these medications, it is important to remember that temporary relief is not a sign of permanent stenosis reversal.
Spinal Stenosis Surgery
Extreme spinal stenosis will cause loss of bowel and bladder control, leg pain and weakness that makes it difficult to move, and numbness on the upper leg and thigh. If you have any of these symptoms, contact a healthcare provider immediately.
In such extreme cases, spinal stenosis may require surgery. But before you go this route, first try to find minimally invasive ways to control your pain.
This surgery typically serves one of three purposes:
- To stabilize the lower back by fusing the vertebrae
- To remove bone spurs
- To widen the space between vertebrae
These operations vary in terms of their invasiveness and chances of success.
While spinal stenosis surgery can be minimally invasive, it is important to research your options ahead of time to ensure your best outcomes.
At Accelerated Interventional Orthopedics, we offer hope—and natural remedies—to those suffering from spinal stenosis. If you’re suffering from spinal stenosis, come see Dr. Rich and his team before you try pain medications or surgery.
- Spinal stenosis is a common ailment with effects that range from discomfort to paralysis.
- Strengthen and stretch the muscles in your back, legs, and stomach.
- Commit to anti-inflammatory medication to see consistent pain reduction.
- Carefully consider surgery options, but before committing, try minimally invasive options.