Spinal Stenosis—Causes, Symptoms and Treatment Options

According to statistics gathered by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, about one in every 10 Americans suffers from some form of spinal stenosis with the malady most common among people over the age of 50. What is it, what are the symptoms, what causes it, and what can you do about it?

What Is Spinal Stenosis?

Very simply, stenosis causes the spaces within your spine to narrow. When that happens, there can be extra pressure on all the nerves that travel up and down yourspine. Spinal stenosis is categorized as either cervical stenosis, where your neck is primarily affected, or lumbar stenosis, found in your lower back. You may be diagnosed with both types of spinal stenosis.

What Causes Spinal Stenosis?

Though spinal stenosis can be congenital (you may be born with a small spinal canal), it’s usually caused by some event or development in your body, such as a:

  • Herniated disc
  • Tumor
  • Spinal injury
  • Ligament injury or deterioration
  • Overgrowth of bone

What Are the Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis?

With both types of spinal stenosis, a common symptom is numbness, tingling or a weakness. With cervical stenosis, that sensation may be in the hand, arm, foot or leg. With lumbar stenosis, it’s customarily limited to the foot or leg. With cervical stenosis, you’ll typically experience neck pain and difficulties with balance or walking. With lumbar stenosis, it’s common to have cramping or discomfort when you walk or when you stand for long periods of time. Those symptoms are generally alleviated when you sit down or lean forward. If you find that you’re stooped over orconstantly leaning forward, you may have stenosis.

How is Spinal Stenosis Treated?

A definite diagnosis of spinal stenosis typically requires an x-ray, an MRI or a CT myelogram. There are a number of ways to treat spinal stenosis. Surgery is always an option, but typically should be one of the last. If your stenosis is mild and you’ve caught it early, a physical therapy regimen can be extremely helpful. You can, of course, take pain medications or anti-inflammatories. Steroid injections can help relieve irritation or inflammation. If your stenosis is the result of thickened ligaments, you may also undergo a decompression procedure, where small, needle-like tools are used to excise part of the ligament and relieve pressure.

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