What is Spinal Stenosis?
The term “stenosis” refers to the abnormal narrowing of a body channel. When a bone channel occupied by the spinal cord or spinal nerves narrows, this is called spinal stenosis. While some people can be born with spinal stenosis, most cases develop as part of the degenerative cascade. Spinal stenosis can develop as a part of the natural aging process, and most people will notice radiating pain, weakness, or numbness relating to the compression of the nerves or spinal cord. Often experienced in patients ages 50 and older, this condition develops gradually and very rarely causes immediate symptoms. As these symptoms progress, it is common to notice a decrease in physical activity and a change in posture.
What Causes Spinal Stenosis?
Spinal stenosis can be caused by the following:
- Herniated discs
- Lifestyle factors
- Overgrowth of bone
- Spinal injuries
- Thickened ligaments
Where Can Spinal Stenosis Develop?
Spinal stenosis can develop in these areas:
- Lower back
- Middle back
- Upper back
Types of Spinal Stenosis
There are three main types of spinal stenosis:
- Cervical stenosis– Cervical stenosis is spinal stenosis pain felt in the neck. This type of stenosis could indicate potential compression of the spinal cord, which can lead to serious problems. Patients with cervical stenosis who develop signs of spinal cord compression may have an increased need for surgical treatment.
- Lumbar spinal stenosis– Lumbar spinal stenosis occurs when the spinal nerve roots within the lower back become compressed. This is the most common type of spinal stenosis.
- Thoracic stenosis– the least common type of spinal stenosis, thoracic stenosis occurs in the middle and upper portion of the back. However, this type of spinal stenosis is rare due to its location. The upper and middle part of the back are generally stable and allow minimal movement, making degenerative conditions such as spinal stenosis less likely to develop.
How Does Spinal Stenosis Affect the Spine?
In the normal spinal anatomy, there is enough space for the spinal canal along with the nerve roots as they exit the spine. However, in a spine affected by spinal stenosis, bony growths due to a certain condition or the normal aging process begin to develop. This constricts the space allotted for the spinal cord and spinal nerves.
What Are the Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis?
Symptoms of spinal stenosis are mostly determined by the severity and location of the condition.
However, some common symptoms are:
- A relief from pain following rest or slouching posture
- Pain that comes and goes
- Pain that develops slowly over time
- Pain that occurs during certain activities or positions that involve the spine
What are the Risk Factors for Spinal Stenosis?
Some typical risk factors of spinal stenosis include:
- Age– Spinal stenosis is more common in those aged 50 and older.
- History of injury– Those who sustained a spinal injury earlier in life are more at risk of developing spinal stenosis.
- Obesity– Excess body weight places more stress on the spine, causing it to degenerate more rapidly.
- Smoking– Those who smoke are more likely to have severe pain in association with their spinal stenosis.
How Do I Prevent Spinal Stenosis?
While spinal stenosis often develops as a natural part of the aging process, there are some measures you can take to prevent it:
- Avoid smoking
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy body weight
- Maintain correct posture