Spinal Stenosis

What Is Spinal Stenosis

Discover everything you need to know about spinal stenosis and how to treat the condition.

Table of Contents

What Does Spinal Stenosis Feel Like?

The back pain resulting from spinal stenosis is not easy to deal with, and, unfortunately, there are several varieties of back pain that can occur. Some may involve aches and stiffness, while more serious conditions may affect the nerves in the spinal region.



Spinal stenosis is a condition caused by the narrowing of the spine—specifically affecting the spaces within the spine and putting pressure on the nerves. This causes pain in the back and neck and can be quite difficult to deal with.



Although spinal stenosis is characterized by pain in the back and neck, in some cases, it can radiate throughout the body. The pain may be accompanied by tingling, numbness, and muscle weakness, which can worsen over time.

What is the Context of Pain Within Spinal Stenosis?

Who Gets Spinal Stenosis?

Spinal stenosis symptoms are most likely to occur in the following individuals:

Seniors

Spinal stenosis is typically brought on by wear and tear on the body. It can also be a side effect of osteoarthritis, herniated discs, and thickened ligaments, which are likely to occur as we age. Therefore, the condition is more likely to appear in seniors.

People With Paget’s Disease

Paget’s disease is a bone disease that affects adults, causing bone overgrowth in the spine that can lead to spinal stenosis.

People Who Are Prone to Tumors

Tumors can produce spinal stenosis symptoms by forming in the spaces between the spinal cord and vertebrae. Therefore, people prone to tumors and those with cancer are at higher risk for developing narrowing of the spine.

People With Back Injuries

People who have been injured in a car accident or other types of accidents may experience dislocations and fractures in one or more vertebrae. The displaced bone can damage the spinal canal. Surgery to treat injuries can also put pressure on the spinal cord and nerves.

Types of Spinal Stenosis

There are two types of spinal stenosis:

Cervical Stenosis

Cervical stenosis occurs when the spinal canal is too small for the spinal cord and nerve roots. This can cause pinched nerves in the spine and damage the nerve roots and spinal cord. Cervical stenosis affects the upper part of the back and is characterized by pain in the neck and arms. In advanced stages, it can affect bladder and bowel function and cause pain in the legs and feet.

Lumbar Stenosis

Lumbar stenosis is a narrowing of the spine in the lower back, causing pain in the back and legs. It can affect people’s ability to walk and, like cervical stenosis, it can affect bowel and bladder function.

A Deeper Look Into Lumbar Spinal Stenosis

Signs and Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis symptoms are as follows:

In the Neck

Here are the common symptoms of spinal stenosis that occur in the neck:

Neck Pain

Cervical stenosis is especially prevalent in the neck area. Pain in the neck may occur when moving a certain way or not moving at all.

Weakness and Clumsiness in the Arm, Hand, Leg, or Foot

The affected nerves may cause pain to radiate throughout the body. Cervical stenosis is more likely to cause pain in the upper body like the hands and arms, while lumbar stenosis affects the lower body like the legs and feet; however, in advanced stages, pain may occur all over.

Problems With Balance

When spinal stenosis worsens, the condition can get in the way of people’s ability to walk or maintain balance.

Loss of Function in Hands

The compression of nerves can lead to a loss of function in the hands.

Urinary Urges and Incontinence

In advanced stages, spinal stenosis can affect bladder function, leading to urinary urges and incontinence. This is more likely to occur with lumbar stenosis.

In the Lower Back

Pain in the Lower Back

Pain in the lower back is often associated with lumbar stenosis.

Sciatica

It can pinch nerves, causing sciatica—a condition characterized by pain in the back and legs.

Cramping in One or Both Legs

Motor nerve damage can cause cramping and painful twitching in the leg area or any part of the body.

Myelopathy

Myelopathy is an injury to the spinal cord that may occur due to severe compression.1

Loss of Bladder or Bowel Control

Loss of bladder or bowel control can occur in advanced stages of spinal stenosis.

Causes of Spinal Stenosis

There are many possible causes of spinal stenosis. These include the following:

Bone Overgrowth/Arthritic Spurs

Wear and tear and osteoarthritis can cause bone spurs to form on the spinal canal. These are smooth, hard bumps of extra bone that form at the end of bones. Bone spurs can compress the spine, causing cervical spinal stenosis.

Herniated Discs

The soft discs that serve as shock absorbers in the spine can dry out with age and become herniated. Cracks in the exterior of the discs may let some of the soft inner material escape and press on the spinal cords or nerves.

Certain Bone Diseases

There are several bone diseases that may cause stenosis of the spine. These include:

Achondroplasia

This is the most common form of skeletal dysplasia. Achondroplasia is a birth defect that impairs bone growth in the limbs and causes abnormal growth in the spine and skull.2

Ankylosing Spondylitis

This is an inflammatory disease that causes the bones of the spine to fuse, decreasing flexibility in the spine. Ankylosing spondylitis may result in a hunched posture and can put pressure on the ribs, making it difficult to breathe.3

Paget’s Disease

Paget’s disease disrupts the replacement of old bone tissue with new tissue, causing the bones to become fragile and misshapen. It can occur in the pelvis, legs, spine, and skull.4

Ossification of the Posterior Longitudinal Ligament (OPLL)

The condition causes calcium deposits to form on the ligament that runs through the spinal canal.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis causes swelling, pain, stiffness, and a loss of function in the joints. It can also cause bone spurs and bone damage, leading to spinal stenosis.

Spinal Injuries

Spinal injuries, such as slipped discs and bone fractures, can cause the vertebrae or bone fragments in the back to put pressure on the nerves in the spine.

Tumors

Tumors may occur due to cancer or in the form of spinal tumors that develop in the spinal canal. They cause pressure and inflammation, changing the surrounding bone to produce a narrowing of the spine.

Arthritis

Both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can cause disc space narrowing. Osteoarthritis causes the cushions between the bones to break down and can reduce cartilage between vertebrae, causing bone spurs to grow. Rheumatoid arthritis causes chronic inflammation that can lead to bone damage and bone spurs.

Thickened Ligaments

Ligaments are the cords that hold the bones of the spine together. They can become stiff and thickened over time, causing a bulge into the spinal cord that can be categorized as back stenosis.

Congenital Spinal Stenosis

It is possible for people to be born with stenosis of the spine. This is considered a birth defect.

Spinal Stenosis Risk Factors

Spinal Stenosis Risk Factors
Several risk factors can cause narrowing of the spine. These include the following:

Degenerative Changes

The bones in the back can degenerate over time; however, the degeneration can speed up if certain conditions are present. This leads to herniated discs, arthritis, and other issues linked to cervical stenosis symptoms.

Trauma

Trauma can occur due to an accident or surgery. For instance, an incident can cause dislocations and fractures in the vertebrae, and displaced bones can damage the spinal canal.

Scoliosis

Scoliosis is defined as a curvature of the spine, which can occur at birth or develop over time. It causes discs and joints to degenerate, leading to stenosis of the spine. Additionally, scoliosis can cause associated conditions, such as bone spurs and arthritis.

Genetic Disease

Various genetic diseases can cause spinal stenosis, such as scoliosis, Paget’s disease, achondroplasia, and ankylosing spondylitis.

Diagnosis and Tests

Several types of tests are used to diagnose back stenosis, including:

Patient History

Doctors can determine if patients are at high risk for developing spinal stenosis by reviewing their histories, such as genetic conditions, past traumas, procedures, and general lifestyle activities.

Physical Examination

A medical professional will conduct a physical examination—the patient may be asked to perform a variety of movements to determine the source of back stenosis pain.

Computed Tomography (CT) Scan

A CT scan may be used for spinal stenosis diagnosis. It involves taking various x-ray images and combining them to provide different angles to make up a cross-sectional image of the affected area.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)- Spine

An MRI uses magnetic and radio waves to provide cross-sectional images of the spine. It can detect ligament and disc damage, tumors, and the source of pressure applied to nerves in the back.

X-Rays

X-rays use radiation to pick up bone spurs and other changes in bone that may be causing narrowing of the spine.

Myelography

This is diagnostic imaging generally performed by a radiologist. It uses contrast dyes, x-rays, and CT scans to look for issues in the spinal canal.

Treatment for Spinal Stenosis

Fortunately, many spinal stenosis treatment methods are available. Here are a variety of different treatments that may be helpful to those with this condition:

Self-Help Remedies

There are several remedies people can do at home to relieve spinal stenosis symptoms. These include:

Applying Heat

Applying heat is an effective form of spinal stenosis treatment. It boosts blood flow to provide relief from spinal stenosis and arthritis pain.

Applying Cold

Applying cold packs to the area will reduce inflammation and numb the pain.

Exercise

Exercises like flexing, stretching, and strengthening movements may help open up the spine. However, it’s advisable to talk to a physical therapist to determine which exercises are safe before proceeding.

Non-Surgical Treatments

Here are some non-surgical treatments that are often used to relieve pain associated with spinal canal stenosis:

Oral Medications

Oral medications, such as aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen, can reduce pain and inflammation and are often used in spinal stenosis treatment.

Physical Therapist

Physical therapists teach and recommend exercises that open up the spine. These are performed in their office with the therapist’s assistance, and some exercises can be done at home.

Steroid Injections

Steroid medication (corticosteroid) can be injected into the site of irritation to reduce pain and inflammation.

Surgical Treatments

Surgical treatments can be used to eliminate the condition, making them an effective cure for spinal stenosis. They include:

Laminectomy

A laminectomy removes the lamina, or back part, of the affected area to create space around the nerves and relieve the pressure. In some instances, metal hardware and bone grafts (spinal fusion) may be used to link the vertebrae and maintain spine strength.

Laminotomy

This involves removing only part of the lamina. The procedure is done by carving a hole that’s just large enough to relieve pressure in the affected area.

Laminoplasty

This procedure is recommended for cervical spinal stenosis, as it is performed on the vertebrae in the neck (cervical spine). Laminoplasty involves creating a hinge on the lamina to make space in the spinal canal. Metal hardware is used to bridge the gap in the open section of the spine.

Foraminotomy

This type of surgery enlarges the area around the bones of the spinal column to relieve pressure on the nerves.

Interspinous Process Spacers

An interspinous spacer can be inserted into the back of the spine. It is placed between spinous processes and gently opened. Doing so makes space between compressed passages in the vertebra and relieves compression on the nerves.

Spinal Fusion

Spinal fusion is a type of spinal stenosis treatment that connects two or more vertebrae in the back to eliminate motion between them. It can be used to correct deformities of the spine, such as scoliosis, spinal weakness and instability, and herniated discs, that may be associated with disc space narrowing.

How You Can Prevent Spinal Stenosis

While it’s good to know about the available spinal stenosis treatments, learning about prevention methods can be extremely helpful. Becoming familiar with how to prevent spinal stenosis can reduce the risk of development, pain, and medical expenses. Here are some recommended prevention methods:

Eat a Healthy Diet

Excess weight puts pressure on the back, making spinal stenosis more likely to occur. Thus, eating and maintaining a healthy diet will keep weight down and minimize the risk of back issues.

Don’t Smoke

Nicotine is known to cause cell damage in the annulus and nucleus. This damage can lead to disc degeneration, causing spinal stenosis symptoms. So, avoiding smoking will minimize cell damage and decrease the risk of the condition developing.

Maintain Good Posture

Maintaining good posture will support the natural curves of the back, preventing discs from slipping out of place. Tips for good posture include learning how to safely lift heavy objects, sleeping on a firm mattress, and practicing posture-improvement exercises, stretches, and positions.

Exercise Regularly

Exercising regularly strengthens the muscles that support the spine and keeps the spine flexible. It also helps the body stay fit.

Overview of Spinal Stenosis

Prognosis and Outlook

The prognosis for spinal stenosis is usually very good, and most people will be able to relieve symptoms with non-surgical treatment effectively.

Nonetheless, in severe stenosis cases, non-surgical treatments will not work as well or be as effective. If this occurs, surgical options may serve as a viable solution.

How J. Flowers Can Help

We understand spinal stenosis is not easy to deal with, which is why we provide solutions and treatment options to help you. J. Flowers provides high-quality concierge health care to people of all age groups and offers patients comprehensive care from diagnosis to treatment to aftercare.


With our holistic approach, we focus on both the mental and physical aspects of treatment and recovery to find a solution that works best for each individual. We address a variety of issues, including chronic pain, mental health, and substance use disorders, while providing a comfortable atmosphere that is conducive to healing.


Don’t let spinal stenosis lower your quality of life. Reach out to J. Flowers today, and we will get you on a path to healing for a more enjoyable present and future.