Back pain is a very common complaint among adults and is important to understand even if you have yet to experience it. There are many causes of back pain including osteoporosis, scoliosis, a herniated disk, muscle pain, or even just sleeping on a poor surface.
One of the most common sources of back pain for people over the age of fifty is spinal stenosis. Unfortunately for women, they have a higher risk of developing it than men. While some people over fifty may not experience symptoms, others may have aches, numbness, tingling, and muscle weakness.
Nevertheless, back health issues require different treatments so it’s helpful to be aware of the root cause of your discomfort.
Your spinal cord is a bunch of nerves that runs through a tunnel consisting of your vertebrae. This tunnel is known as the spinal canal. Spinal stenosis involves a narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower back. This narrowing or stenosis can put pressure on the nerves of your spine which connect to your muscles. Essentially, the stenosis cuts down on the amount of space available for both the spinal cord and the nerves.
The most common reason for spinal stenosis is osteoarthritis, the wear and tear on your joints over time. There are two main types of spinal stenosis, however, which can be easily identified by their location. The most common form, lumbar stenosis, resides in the lower back. The second kind, cervical stenosis, occurs in the spinal region of the neck.
Symptoms of lumbar stenosis include numbness, weakness, or tingling in the foot or leg, back pain, and pain or cramping in the legs (especially when standing or walking for some time).
Cervical stenosis symptoms include tingling, numbness, or weakness in the arm, hand, foot, or leg, as well as, neck pain, balance issues, walking problems and bowel or bladder dysfunction (in severe cases). Doctors recommend that you seek medical attention if you have any of these symptoms, especially for prolonged periods of time.
If during a medical exam, a doctor notices symptom such as weakness, loss of sensation, and abnormal reflexes, she will probably order further tests to complete her diagnosis. Typically, a physician will call for an imaging test such as a CT scan or MRI scan in order to get a look at the spinal canal and the attached nerves.
A physician may also want to do an x-ray of the lumbar spine or even a bone scan to aid their diagnosis.
The best way to handle spinal stenosis is to assume an active role in your diagnosis and treatment. Because stenosis is usually the result of degenerative changes to your spine as you age, there may not be too much you can do to avoid it.
However, there are a number of things you can do to lessen its impact. Keeping your back in shape by getting regular exercise and not gaining too much weight is a great start. Good body mechanics are also very helpful for keeping stenosis at bay.
When you start to experience discomfort, tried-and-true home remedies such as a heating pad, an ice bag or even a hot shower are good ways to manage your lower back pain.
Treatment will depend on the exact location of the stenosis and the strength of the symptoms. Often, a doctor may recommend anti-inflammatories to relieve the pain.
Another popular option is physical therapy to build up your leg, stomach and back muscles.
While surgery is always the last resort in these cases, it may be necessary once other methods are exhausted. During surgery, a surgeon can increase the space between vertebrae by removing bone spurs. Or, she could fuse some vertebrae together to stabilize the lower back.
In addition, alternative therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic care and massage are often used in conjunction with conventional treatments to help patients deal with pain.
While there is no cure for spinal stenosis, there are a number of ways to relieve the symptoms. Waiting and hoping it will go away, however, isn’t one of them. Unfortunately, this condition will deteriorate over time if left untreated.
An exercise program, for instance, that bolsters your strength and your range of motion can help you move with less pain.
You should not rely solely on anti-inflammatory medicine to treat your symptoms as this can actually aggravate things and speed up the progression of stenosis. You are better off working on your posture and improving your exercise regimen.
It is imperative to educate yourself about spinal stenosis, so you know the right steps to take to minimize the pain. Often, knowing what not to do with back pain is as important as knowing what to do.
By taking an active role and consulting your physician or a physical therapist, you can develop an effective plan for handling your condition on a long-term basis. In addition, taking these steps early can help you to keep surgery at bay while you pursue less invasive options.