What is Spinal Stenosis?
Most people experience low back pain at one time or another. One common cause of low back pain is a condition called spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spaces in the backbone, or spinal column. This narrowing can put pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots. Spinal stenosis usually affects the lower back (lumbar spine), but can also affect the neck (cervical spine).
There are three ways spinal stenosis can affect the spine: the spinal cord can be squeezed in the spinal canal; the space between vertebrae can get smaller, which puts pressure on the nerve roots; or the bony canals that the nerve roots pass through can become narrow.
The most common cause of these changes is osteoarthritis. This is the gradual wear and tear on joints as we age. Other causes include injury to the spine, a herniated disc, a bulging disc, tumors, certain bone diseases, past spine surgery and rheumatoid arthritis.
Spinal stenosis can cause constant lower back pain when a person stands or walks. Other common symptoms can include weakness, numbness or tingling in the legs, often in the calves. This can make it difficult to walk more than a few steps without discomfort. Taking pressure off the nerve by bending forward or otherwise changing position may help alleviate the pain. In severe cases of spinal stenosis, some people may have difficulty controlling their bowels or bladder.
Obtaining a proper diagnosis is the first step toward relieving back pain caused by spinal stenosis. Your health care provider will ask about your medical history and symptoms. He or she will perform a physical exam and may order imaging tests of the spine. These can include:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Computed tomography (CT)
Treatment for spinal stenosis can include pain medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, called NSAIDs. These can help relieve pain and swelling. Examples of NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen. Injections of steroids into the spinal canal can also reduce swelling and relieve pain.
Certain neck and back exercises that strengthen your back, belly and leg muscles can help with symptoms. Stretching, massage and use of a back support may also alleviate discomfort. Some people may benefit from acupuncture and chiropractic care.
In severe cases of spinal stenosis, surgery may be the recommended course of treatment. BayCare offers a variety of options for minimally invasive spine surgery.
Maintaining the health of your spine is the best way to try and prevent spinal stenosis and other spinal conditions. Get regular exercise, practice good posture and maintain a healthy body weight to reduce stress on your back.
BayCare offers minimally invasive spine surgery at locations throughout the Tampa Bay area. If you have pain in your neck, back, legs or arms, your doctor can determine if conservative treatments are right for you or if you are a candidate for minimally invasive spine surgery. BayCare proudly serves patients in Tampa, Clearwater, St. Petersburg, Safety Harbor, Dunedin, New Port Richey, Plant City, Winter Haven, Lutz and the surrounding areas.
For more information or a referral to a doctor who performs minimally invasive spine surgery, call (855) 314-8347 or find a doctor near you.