Spinal stenosis is a painful back ailment that can potentially degenerate with worsening pain if not treated promptly. And that’s just one of the dangers of this condition. Leading spine doctors recommend making an appointment as soon as the pain starts so you can get prompt treatment to avoid more acute pain and further damage.
What is spinal stenosis
“Spinal stenosis is narrowing of the spinal column that causes pressure on the spinal cord, or narrowing of the openings (called neural foramina) where spinal nerves leave the spinal column,” said the New York Times.
As people age, the condition becomes more likely to occur. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) spinal stenosis is a “growing epidemic” that affects between eight and 11 percent of the population, increasingly affecting the Baby Boomer generation.
In fact, aging is often at the root of spinal stenosis, spurred on by secondary conditions like osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. The most common cause of spinal stenosis is “a gradual, degenerative aging process,” said the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIH), creating conditions like bulging discs, shifting vertebrae, enlarged facet joints, and more. “Either structural changes or inflammation can begin the process. As people age, the ligaments of the spine may thicken and calcify (harden from deposits of calcium salts). Bones and joints may also enlarge: when surfaces of the bone begin to project out from the body, these projections are called osteophytes (bone spurs).”
That can cause symptoms including: extreme pain in the back, neck, and traveling down the leg or in the arms; a feeling of numbness, weakness, or cramping in the same areas; and foot problems.
Risks of spinal stenosis
No one wants to prolong their pain, but that’s what you may face if you try to power through spinal stenosis without treatment. Ongoing pain is not just unpleasant, but can also be disruptive to your life, making both work and home life challenging. Untreated spinal stenosis can also be dangerous in many ways:
- Sleep disruptions could lead to distracted driving and other activities
- You may develop difficulty with walking, balancing, and using your hands and feet
- Walking or sitting differently in an attempt to minimize pain could create stress on other areas of the body, causing additional injury
- “In severe cases, you may experience abnormalities with your bowel or bladder function,” said DISC Spine Institute. “These symptoms from spinal cord compression are referred to as myelopathy and can be irreversible.”
- Spinal stenosis could eventually cause permanent nerve damage if left untreated
Treatments for spinal stenosis
A leading back doctor, especially one who is trained in minimally invasive techniques, will typically approach care conservatively to heal your condition and end your pain. When you first see the doctor, you’ll have a physical exam to confirm your diagnosis. If it’s spinal stenosis, there are a number of treatments that may be prescribed, from over-the-counter or prescription medication to reduce swelling, to physical therapy, to rest.
“Your doctor will likely suggest nonsurgical treatment first unless you have symptoms that get in the way of walking, problems with bowel or bladder function, or problems with your nervous system,” said the NIH. “The purpose of surgery is to relieve pressure on the spinal cord or nerves and restore and maintain alignment and strength of the spine.”
If you’re concerned that your back pain is spinal stenosis or simply want to move forward with feeling better, contact DISC Spine Institute, leading DFW disc and spine centers and experts in minimally invasive treatments, the most effective medical procedures to treat and eliminate chronic back pain. Treating back pain in Texas is easier than ever, with minimally invasive treatments that mean short hospital stays, and shorter recoveries.