Almost 80% of Americans will experience lower back pain in their lives. It’s a condition that has been slowly rising in prevalence through the decades, resulting in billions of dollars in costs.
Out of the many seeking care for chronic lower back pain, it is estimated 35% will have spinal stenosis.
But what is spinal stenosis? It’s one of the most common causes of lower back pain in seniors, yet it is sorely underrepresented.
If you suffer from back pain or have been diagnosed with this illness, read on: this article will tell you everything you need to know about spinal stenosis.
What Is Spinal Stenosis, Really?
As we’re sure you can guess, this disorder affects the spine. We’ll get into all the nitty-gritty details here.
What Is It?
Spinal Stenosis is a disorder that affects mostly older adults. When it occurs, the spaces in the backbone narrow, resulting in pressure on the spinal cord and/or the nerve roots that branch from it.
There are two major types: lumbar stenosis and cervical stenosis.
The cases of lumbar stenosis continue to swell as the population ages. This type of spinal stenosis involves the narrowing of spaces in the lower back.
Cervical stenosis occurs when the spinal canal is too narrow in the area around the neck.
Unfortunately, it is possible for individuals to be asymptomatic. However, several symptoms are associated with each type.
Neurogenic claudication is the most common symptom associated with lumbar stenosis. Individuals may experience numbing or tingling sensations in the foot and leg. These feelings may extend to the buttock, groin and anterior thigh.
In addition, weakness within the leg may occur and some patients may feel pain when they stand for long periods of time. The pain dissipates after sitting or bending forward.
Additionally, many patients may suffer from lower back pain.
Cervical stenosis denotes similar symptoms, except the sensations revolve around the upper torso.
Victims of cervical stenosis may experience numbness or tingling in a hand, foot, arm or even leg. It is often described as an electrical sensation that shoots from the neck to the hand or arm. Weakness in these areas may also be displayed.
In addition to neck pain, balance issues and difficulty walking are also common in cervical stenosis. Finally, severe cases may lead to dysfunctions in the bowel or bladder.
There are several potential causes for either condition, but most cases are due to common degenerative issues from aging.
Rarely, individuals are born with smaller spinal canals, which can result in spinal stenosis. Other potential causes can include the following:
- Bone spurs or abnormal bone growth
- Injuries to the spine
- Excess fluoride in the body
Age-related causes include herniated discs, which may develop cracks as an individual ages. These cracks can release material that presses on the spinal cord.
Ligaments may also be the culprit. As time progresses, these cords can become thickened and stiff or calcium deposits can form, causing pressure upon the spine.
Other causes include spinal degeneration and arthritis.
Initial diagnosis relies mostly on patient symptoms, which can be troubling if the individual is asymptomatic. Physicians may also investigate the person’s medical history to see if there are any prior signs of the disorder. They will also conduct a physical exam to test reflexes and assess any damage.
Finally, imaging and scans may be necessary. X-rays, MRIs and CTs can be utilized to garner a better picture of the spine’s health.
Most people who have spinal stenosis are over 50. Age is the greatest risk factor contributing to the disorder. However, any spinal deformities or genetic disorders altering bone growth can lead to spinal stenosis as well as spinal injuries.
Regular exercise is perhaps the best way to decrease the risk of spinal stenosis.
Exercising strengthens the back muscles and flexibility, leading to a healthier back and lessening the chance of degenerative issues caused by aging. Stretching has a similar effect.
Managing weight also reduces the pressure on the spine that can lead to spinal stenosis. Finally, practicing good posture when sitting or lifting items lowers the chance of a back injury that could lead to the disorder.
Currently, both surgical and non-surgical treatments are utilized.
Physicians usually attempt to use non-surgical means before resorting to surgery, especially for senior citizens; risks increase in surgery as age increases.
Non-surgical treatments can include the following:
- Physical therapy
- Lifestyle modifications, such as exercise or dieting
- Injections into the spine
Medications often involve the use of opioids, muscle relaxers or other pain-relieving substances. Unfortunately, these only act to moderate the patient’s discomfort. They do little for long-term health, especially considering the risk of addiction.
Studies in physical therapy have had mixed outcomes, with possibly the most promising including a rigorous program involving ultrasound, infrared heating, active therapy and subcutaneous salmon calcitonin.
Many patients choose to utilize back braces, which can relieve pain. However, these should be worn for only a few hours a day, as they can weaken muscles over time. Acupuncture in the back has also been utilized with varied results, but it should only be undergone with the okay of a doctor.
Likewise, studies show differing results through other non-surgical methods. Only about 20% of patients improve through these measures, but Harvard Health Publishing reports no studies indicate functioning or pain increases with contemporary methods.
Several surgeries are available for spinal stenosis:
- Minimally invasive surgeries
Again, studies are contradictive. However, long-term research indicates 60% to 90% of patients enjoy improvements in the first year after surgery. While post-surgeries may be necessary, only 10% to 25% of patients will require a second operation.
Help with Back Pain
“What is spinal stenosis” is a question that more and more people are asking as back pain plagues the nation.
If you’re experiencing back pain or any of the symptoms discussed, seek the advice of a doctor. He or she will be able to give you the proper course of treatment to alleviate pain and start you on the path to a healthy back.
Are you looking to relieve some back pain now? Before you go, be sure to read our article. It provides key ways to reduce back pain.
Take some steps today to create a happier, pain-free tomorrow.