One of the more frequently diagnosed causes of back pain in the United States is spinal stenosis. This condition often goes undiagnosed, because many people who have it don’t ever experience any symptoms. For those who do, the pain, tingling, muscle weakness and numbness that they feel can be debilitating.
Spinal stenosis can be congenital, but is usually a result of aging, wear and tear, or both. Degenerative stenosis is a process in which the column through which the spinal nerves travel narrows, creating pressure, and it can be caused by any number of changes in the surrounding environment, including an overgrowth of bone, herniated disks, thickened ligaments, tumors, or injury.
Stenosis can form in the part of the spine near the neck or the part in the lower back: the former is called cervical stenosis and the latter is called lumbar stenosis, which is more common. The two conditions have similar symptoms, with some variations:
Symptoms of Cervical Stenosis
- Neck pain
- Problems with balance
- Difficulty walking
- Numbness, tingling or weakness in a hand, arm, leg or foot
- Incontinence and urinary urgency
Symptoms of Lumbar Stenosis
- Back pain
- Pain/cramps in leg(s) after long periods of standing or walking. Symptom goes away with sitting or bending forward.
- Numbness, tingling or weakness in leg or foot
There are many treatment options available for spinal stenosis. The first step your physician will take is to order diagnostic tests in order to pinpoint the extent and location of the problem.
In most cases non-invasive protocols will be offered first. These include:
- Medications, including over-the-counter pain relievers like Tylenol, Motrin or Aleve; antidepressants; anti-seizure drugs to minimize pain from nerves that have been damaged; prescription pain killers for short-term pain relief.
- Physical therapy, which can reverse muscle weakness, build strength and stamina, increase flexibility and improve balance
- Injections of steroids, which can reduce inflammation of inflamed nerves
Patients who are diagnosed with a thickened ligament in the back of their spinal column may be offered a procedure called percutaneous image-guided lumbar decompression, which removes the thickening to increase the volume of the spinal column and eliminate pressure on nerves.
If these interventions don’t provide you with relief, surgery to decompress the area is extremely effective. There are a few different types of procedures that are available, depending upon your specific condition, including removal of the back part of the vertebra to ease pressure on the nerves (laminectomy); removing a portion of the lamina (laminotomy); and a procedure that opens the space within the spinal canal in the neck called laminoplasty.
Patients may also be offered minimally invasive surgery to remove tissue or bone that is putting pressure on the spinal canal, other types of surgical procedures.
The most important thing to keep in mind if you’re experiencing back pain is that ignoring the problem can lead to further degeneration and pain. To get yourself on the road to recovery, contact our office today to set up an appointment.