Anyone who has ever suffered with spinal stenosis will tell you it’s no fun. The condition can be quite painful and debilitating—if it goes untreated. That’s one of the primary dangers of spinal stenosis, because delaying or forgoing treatment for spinal stenosis can progress to more serious conditions.
“Spinal stenosis means the canal holding your spinal cord and nerves becomes too narrow,” said said Dr. Mark C. Valente, Board certified and fellowship trained orthopedic spine surgeon and Founder and Medical Director of DISC Spine Institute, a leader in minimally invasive back treatments and surgical procedures. “This extra pressure inside your spine can result in a variety of symptoms, such as pain, leg cramping, numbness, tingling and weakness.”
And that’s often just the beginning. As spinal stenosis progresses, it can cause symptoms including difficulty walking, balancing, and using your hands. “In severe cases, you may experience abnormalities with your bowel or bladder function,” said Dr. Valente. “These symptoms from spinal cord compression are referred to as myelopathy and can be irreversible.”
What causes spinal stenosis?
Spinal stenosis can be both an inherited condition, like achondroplasia, a “defective bone formation” that narrows the spinal canal, said the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIH). It can also be acquired as the result of a condition like scoliosis, in which the curvature of the spine affects the surrounding nerves, tissue, and ligaments. Or, it can be the result of a degenerative condition. Everything from bone spurs to bulging discs to spondylolisthesis (a shift of two adjacent vertebrae) to osteoarthritis can cause the spinal cord to narrow.
This reinforces the importance of seeing a doctor for back pain. It’s obviously important to continue treatment from a leading back doctor if you were born with a condition that needs to be controlled, both for pain management and so it won’t worsen and turn into spinal stenosis. But, going to the doctor for back pain is not something everyone does at the first sign of symptoms; knowing how dangerous conditions like spinal stenosis can be should help convince back pain sufferers to allow a professional to do a thorough examination and develop a plan to treat the issue so it does not degenerate.
Cervical spinal stenosis
Spinal stenosis is not limited to the spine. Cervical spinal stenosis occurs when the spinal canal narrows in your neck. At the very least, this condition can make it difficult to get through the day; at worst, it can be extremely serious.
“Without treatment, you may have worsening signs and symptoms, such as burning neck pain, numbness, and weakness,” said Drugs.com. “It may be hard for you to do your normal daily activities. The pain may make it hard for you to sleep, or it may change your mood. You also may have trouble working or doing chores, such as lifting or carrying things. Cervical myelopathy may develop over time. This is when your spinal canal is pinched, causing the nerve cells to be damaged. You may not be able to control when you urinate or have a bowel movement. In rare cases, you may become paralyzed.”
Treatments for spinal stenosis
Thankfully, spinal stenosis can often be treated, first with anti-inflammatories, physical therapy, and epidural steroid injections, which can decrease inflammation and pain. Minimally invasive surgery can also be performed in an outpatient procedure with a small incision and no stiches.
When it’s time to see a doctor for treatment for back pain that won’t go away or is worsening, seek out a leader in minimally invasive procedures. Advances in minimally invasive treatments means treating chronic back pain is easier than ever. Between outpatient treatments and minimally invasive surgical procedures using small incisions, you can expect a quicker recovery time instead of a long hospital stay.