Spinal Stenosis Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments
Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the open spaces in your spine, which can put pressure on your spinal cord and nerves that migrate through the spine to your legs and arms. In most cases, spinal stenosis occurs in the neck and lower back. Spinal stenosis is an uncomfortable condition that may cause numbness, pain, or weakness in the legs.
What are the Symptoms of the Spinal Stenosis?
You may have proof of spinal stenosis because of an MRI without experiencing any signs or symptoms. However, if the symptoms of spinal stenosis become present, they usually start gradually and get worse over time. Signs and symptoms of this condition vary based on the area of where the spinal stenosis occurs:
- In the neck or cervical spine. While tingling or weakness in the hand and arm is the most common symptom of spinal stenosis, pain and numbness in the legs is also a symptom of cervical stenosis. If you have cervical stenosis, you may also experience walking challenges and incontinence. Learn more about arm pain »
- In the lower back or lumbar spine. Cramping in your legs or pain when you stand up or walk for significant lengths of time can occur because of compressed nerves in your lumbar spine. This cramping typically diminishes when you sit down or bend forward.
To determine whether or not you have spinal stenosis, it’s best to make an appointment with a physician. He or she can perform an x-ray or another imaging test to understand why you may be experiencing pain.
What Causes Spinal Stenosis?
Although some individuals are born with a small spinal canal, almost always, spinal stenosis develops when the amount of space within the spine is diminished. Those with bone spurs that grow into the spinal canal may have spinal stenosis.
A herniated disk may also be a cause. Soft cushions that serve as shock absorbers between your vertebrae usually dry out as one ages. When the disk’s exterior contains cracks, some of the soft material inside of the disk may flee and press on the nerves or spinal cords.
Ligaments that work to support the bones of your spine and keep them together may become thick and stiffen over time. Thickened ligaments can bulge into the spinal canal and cause spinal stenosis too. Spinal injuries from car accidents or other traumatic events in addition to tumors inside the spinal cord may lead to spinal stenosis as well.
How is Spinal Stenosis Treated?
Treatment for spinal stenosis depend on the location of the stenosis and the severity level of your symptoms. Spinal stenosis is usually treated with medications, therapy, and physical therapy.
- Medications. To help you relieve the pain caused by spinal stenosis, your physician may prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants, antidepressants, anti-seizure drugs, or opioids.
- Physical Therapy. Many individuals with spinal stenosis choose to minimize physical activity in order to alleviate pain. When this happens, muscle weakness can occur and actually cause more pain. Physical therapy exercises can help you improve your balance, maintain the flexibility of your spine, and build up strength.
- Surgery. If conservative treatments have not improved your spinal stenosis, surgery may be an option. The goal of surgery for spinal stenosis is to create more space within the spinal canal and relieve the pressure on your spinal cord. Learn more about spine surgery »
If you believe that you are a spinal stenosis patient and would like to be examined by a world-class spine specialist in the Unifour area, the board-certified spine and pain experts at EmergeOrtho: Foothills Region can help. We offer the highest quality of care and do not require you to have an MRI before visiting us. Additionally, all of our surgeries and procedures are conducted at multiple hospitals in the area to save you the time and inconvenience of driving to a larger city hospital. You can choose from the following Unifour area hospitals for your treatment: Frye Regional Medical Center & Catawba Valley Medical Center in Hickory, Caldwell UNC Healthcare in Lenoir, or Carolinas Healthcare System Blue Ridge in Morganton.