One of the most important parts of the body is the spinal cord. There are 33 bones in the spinal cord. These bones are placed one below the other and contain a cavity. Through this cavity all the major nerves from the brain pass through. Any abnormality, defect, injury or fracture to the spinal cord can lead to many neurological complications in different parts of the body, like paralysis. One such condition that leads to lots of pain and discomfort is spinal stenosis. Let us have a look at this condition in detail from the following paragraphs.
What is Spinal Stenosis?
Narrowing of the spinal cords bones present in the lower back, that is the lumbar region is called as spinal stenosis. This abnormal narrowing (stenosis) of the spine rarely occurs in the upper back region. This leads to neurological problems in the body. Based on the region where stenosis occurs, one can determine which area of the body will be affected. The spinal cord narrows with age, and it does not lead to any symptoms in most people. However, when the nerve root canal or spinal canal undergoes narrowing it leads to inflammation as well as pain.
Types of Spinal Stenosis
There are two types of spinal stenosis. These include the cervical spinal stenosis and the lumbar spinal stenosis.
Cervical Spinal Stenosis
The narrowing of the bones present in the neck is called as cervical spinal stenosis. This is considered to be a dangerous condition as it leads to many serious complications. It may lead to severe body weakness as well as paralysis in some cases.
Lumbar Spinal Stenosis
Narrowing of the bones of the lower back leads to lumbar spinal stenosis. This causes the spinal nerve roots to get compressed. Thus, it leads to a condition called sciatica.
Causes of Spinal Stenosis
Degeneration of the bones as a part of the natural aging process can lead to spinal stenosis. Apart from this there are other factors that can lead to spinal stenosis. These include:
- Genetics can be a major factor in narrowing of the spinal cord. The spinal cord can be too narrow during birth or one may be born with structural deformities that leads to stenosis.
- Building or herniation of the invertebral discs into the spinal canal.
- Osteoporosis that causes compression of the spine.
- Spinal problems caused by osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid arthritis.
- Slipping of the vertebra on one another due to spondylisis
- Major accident or injury that leads to spinal trauma or fracture.
- Poor posture, obesity.
Signs and Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis
Symptoms of spinal stenosis develop with time. In some cases, one suddenly experience pain when carrying out daily activities. Let us have a look at the signs according to the types of stenosis.
Cervical Spinal Stenosis
- Pain, numbness as well as tingling in the neck, shoulder, arms and hands.
- Weakness and spasticity in arms and legs
- Difficulty in holding things, walking as well as losing control over muscles.
- Balance and coordination problems
- Suddenly losing control over bladder or bowels and experiencing leg weakness requires immediate medical attention.
Lumbar Spinal Stenosis
- One experiences sciatica, that is, pain, numbness as well as tingling in hips, thighs as well as calves.
- Cramping, pain and weakness in calves when standing or walking.
- One needs to take support to ease the pain when walking.
- One may begin to show signs of peripheral artery disease or lumbar stenosis due to lack of blood supply to the legs.
Diagnosis of Spinal Stenosis
The diagnosis begins by taking the medical history of the patient. After carrying out the physical examination, the physician may suggest an X-ray, Myelogram, CT scan or MRI scan to locate the area of nerve compression.
Treatment for Spinal Stenosis
There is no specific treatment or cure for spinal stenosis. Prevention is the key in avoiding the development of spinal stenosis. Maintain proper posture as well as eating a healthy, calcium rich diet for maintaining spinal health. Other than that:
- Maintain proper body weight to avoid unnecessary pressure on the spinal cord.
- Maintain a proper posture during sleep and bend knees not your back to pick or lift objects from the ground.
- You can visit a physical therapist for learning exercises and postures that help in increasing the strength, flexibility as well as a posture of the spinal cord and muscles.
The physician may suggest nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, steroids, epidural steroid injections as well as facet injections for reducing the pain and discomfort due to stenosis. If nothing helps, the doctor may suggest surgery. There are different surgeries that helps in decompression of the spine and relieving pressure on the spinal nerves. Some of these surgeries include:
- Spinal decompression
- Interspinous process distraction
- Spinal fusion
The treatment depends on the optimum method that will help in relieving pressure on the spine and nerves. The prognosis for spinal stenosis is good. Until and unless there is a complete blockage of the spinal cord, one can hope for relief from pain, numbness, discomfort and other symptoms. Speak to a health care provider for more details as early treatment will ensure one does not have to face complications such as paralysis.
Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: February 4, 2015