Spinal stenosis is a condition characterized by a narrowing spinal canal—the space containing the spine and the nerve endings connected to the spine. The narrowing of the spinal canal compresses the nerves in the region to affect the neck or lower back—sometimes even both. The condition is usually caused by osteoarthritis in the back, but on some rare occasions it might also be caused by thickening of back muscles or bulging spinal discs.
The symptoms of spinal stenosis include back pain, numbness or weakness in the legs, loss of sensation in the feet and loss of bowel control. This is not an exhaustive list of all the symptoms, but if you experience any of these symptoms—you should schedule a visit to your doctor.
Considering how the condition is a complication of osteoarthritis, people over the age of 50 are far more likely to develop the condition than other age groups. While it’s difficult to assess how many people exactly suffer from spinal stenosis, the incidence rate is likely quite high throughout Canada since 10% of all Canadians have osteoarthritis. Based on this evidence, there’s a greater need for us to learn about spinal health, the various conditions that affect it and how these conditions may be prevented or controlled—one of which is spinal stenosis.
Preventing Spinal Stenosis from Worsening
The trick here is to adopt lifestyle changes that can enhance spinal health. There’s little that anyone can do about getting older—therefore we can’t control the onset of spinal stenosis either—but we can prevent it from getting worse. The earlier you start making these lifestyle changes, the less likely it is that you’ll develop a really bad case of the condition.
Some habits that can help you manage your spinal stenosis include:
Exercise is generally considered one of the best ways to prevent the development or worsening of musculoskeletal conditions. When it comes to spinal stenosis—activities like swimming, cycling, stretching and strength training are your best options. These exercises can help strengthen the back and ensure that your back muscles remain flexible.
All physicians prefer suggesting exercise before they move on to more invasive methods of treating the condition—generally people don’t need these either. Of these invasive treatments, the first step is anesthetic and corticosteroid injections at the site of the nerve roots that are compressed or the painful joints.
These injections can reduce pain for months at a time and your doctor might prescribe physical therapy to strengthen your back. As physical therapy progresses, you might find that the pain from spinal stenosis has alleviated enough to require fewer analgesic injections.
Surgery for Spinal Stenosis
Assuming that nothing else works out, surgery is the last option any doctor considers for spinal stenosis. There are multiple surgical procedures used to treat the pain from the condition—the most common being a decompressive laminectomy. The procedure removes certain parts of the bone or muscle that’s compressing the nerves around your spine to relieve the pressure and pain.
Other, less commonly employed, methods include:
- Spinal Fusion—Joins two or more bones in your spine together so they don’t move and press on the nerves. This is a rare approach to treating spinal stenosis, because of the added risks—only attempted when you have other conditions along with spinal stenosis.
- Interspinous Process Devices — A less invasive procedure where the surgeon inserts small metal devices in the places where the nerve roots exit the spine. These devices create more space between the spine, the wall of the spinal canal and the nerves to relieve compression. There’s little evidence that these devices provide long term relief, however.
If you’re looking to manage your spinal stenosis symptoms, you should get in touch with the doctors at Sports and Exercise Medicine Institute. Operating in various areas around Toronto, SEMI is recognized as one of the best sports medicine clinics in Toronto. They offer a Lumbar Spinal Stenosis boot camp to help manage the condition. Visit their website today for more information.