Spinal stenosis can result in weakness, numbness and even paralysis. Stenosis refers to the narrowing of spaces in the spine. There are two types of spinal stenosis: lumbar stenosis and cervical stenosis.
- Lumbar stenosis is more common that cervical stenosis. This condition is caused by compression of the spinal nerve roots in the lower back. This can cause symptoms like those of sciatica, including weakness, numbness and tingling in the lower back, buttocks and legs.
- Cervical spine stenosis is more dangerous than lumbar stenosis. Spinal stenosis is when the spinal cord becomes compressed, resulting in neck pain, extreme body weakness and, in severe cases, paralysis.
Wellness & Prevention
Spinal stenosis can be caused by a range of factors and isn’t always preventable. Age, heredity, arthritis, spinal tumors and trauma can all contribute to stenosis. The condition is fairly common, especially in people over the age of 50, and affects more women than men.
While it’s not always possible to prevent stenosis, there are ways you can minimize your risk of developing the condition:
- Stay at a healthy weight. Excess weight puts more pressure on your spine.
- Get regular exercise. Pay special attention to maintaining proper form. This will help strengthen the muscles that support your lower back. Aerobic exercises such as swimming, walking, cycling and careful weight training can all help strengthen your back and improve the flexibility of your spine.
- Practice good posture. This includes proper sleeping posture and avoiding sitting in chairs that lack back support.
- Lift objects with your legs rather than your back.
Spinal stenosis can be difficult to diagnose based on symptoms alone, as many of the symptoms of stenosis can also be caused by other conditions. Most commonly, imaging tests are necessary to pinpoint your exact condition:
- X-rays can show the extent of arthritis or the presence of bone spurs that can push on the spinal nerves, creating a narrowing of the spinal canal.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) can check the spinal nerves, look for problems with discs and ligaments and detect tumors.
- Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan can provide images of the spine to search for fractures, infections and congenital problems.
- Electromyogram measures muscle activity to test how well the nerves react.
Stenosis can often be managed with nonsurgical treatments unless symptoms are severe. In most instances, conservative treatments are recommended before turning to more aggressive treatments. Spinal stenosis treatments may include:
- Physical therapy: A physical therapist can prescribe certain exercises to help you build up your muscle strength, maintain flexibility in your spine and improve your balance. Massage, stretching, changing your posture and wearing a back brace may also help improve symptoms of stenosis.
- Medications: If inflammatory swelling is contributing to pressure on the nerves, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, can improve stenosis. Muscle relaxants can help calm muscle spasms that can occur in people with stenosis. Steroid spinal injections may offer relief for weeks at a time. Finally, anti-seizure drugs can help minimize pain caused by nerve damage.
- Surgery: If the condition does not improve with nonsurgical treatments, surgery may be considered. The exact approach to surgery depends on whether you are suffering from lumbar stenosis or cervical stenosis. In both cases, surgery is aimed at relieving the pressure that causes the condition. A laminectomy is the most common surgery used to treat stenosis. Other stenosis surgery may involve removing bone spurs, fusing vertebrae together (spinal fusion surgery) or widening spaces between vertebrae.
The best way to manage spinal stenosis is to continue practicing proper posture and staying in good physical shape. Because falling can be dangerous for those with stenosis, you are also recommended to take steps toward preventing falls. To do this, you can remove household hazards, wear flat or low-heeled shoes and limit your use of alcohol and sedatives.
If your symptoms recur, home remedies such as a hot shower, a heating pad or an ice bag may help relieve them. Your physician may also recommend nutritional supplements or additional medications to help prevent spinal stenosis from limiting your quality of life.