Spinal stenosis sounds like a serious condition, and it certainly can be, but it is also surprisingly common, affecting millions of people in the United States each year. The underlying causes of spinal stenosis are usually age-related and related by natural changes that affect all of us. For people living with spinal stenosis, the pain can be debilitating and seriously affect quality of life.
The good news is that spinal stenosis pain is often manageable through a combination of basic therapies and a spine healthy lifestyle. If you are living with spinal stenosis or researching the causes of pain, and want to find relief and improve your quality of life, this comprehensive guide can help.
What Is Spinal Stenosis?
Spinal stenosis describes narrowing in the spinal column, which is what the term literally means. This condition is not necessarily painful, and some degree of spinal stenosis happens to nearly everyone at certain times, especially with age. Spinal stenosis can become painful and affect quality of life when narrowing constricts nerve pathways and causes nerve compression, also known as a pinched nerve.
Although spinal stenosis can happen at any level of the spine, it is most common in the upper (cervical) spine in the neck and the lower (lumbar) spine. This is because these regions are more flexible and experience more wear and tear compared to the fixed middle (thoracic) region of the spine.
What Causes Spinal Stenosis?
Spinal stenosis can be caused by a wide range of underlying conditions that displace anatomy in the spine and cause narrowing in the already tight nerve pathways in the spinal column. In many situations, these conditions are caused by age-related degeneration of the joints, discs and connective tissue that cushions and supports the spine. Spinal stenosis can also be caused by injuries and in rarer cases, growths such as tumors that put pressure on nerves.
Specific causes of spinal stenosis include:
- Bulging and herniated discs
- Degenerative disc disease
- Facet disease or spinal osteoarthritis
- Spinal bone spurs
In some cases, spinal stenosis can occur at multiple levels of the spine and/or be caused by a combination of factors.
What Are the Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis?
Spinal stenosis symptoms can vary by the location of the narrowing, the underlying condition and the extent and severity of the stenosis. Commonly reported symptoms of people living with spinal stenosis include:
- Localized neck and/or back pain
- Shooting pains into the upper or lower extremities
- Neuropathic symptoms, such as tingling and numbness in the hands and feet
- Muscle weakness
For symptoms that persist for longer than a few days or for pain that becomes severe, it is important to see a doctor or pain management specialist for diagnosis and treatment. Identifying spinal stenosis and the underlying cause typically requires a physical examination, review of medical history, questions about symptoms, movement tests and diagnostic imagery such as an MRI.
How Does a Spine Healthy Lifestyle Help Spinal Stenosis Pain?
Certain risk factors, such as poor posture, an overly sedentary lifestyle and being overweight can increase the chances of developing spinal stenosis and potentially increase the severity of symptoms. Focusing on overall health and the health of the spine can help reduce stress on the spine and have a positive effect on pain management. Components of a spine healthy lifestyle include:
- Eating a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet
- Staying active and doing regular exercise that increases cardiovascular fitness and strengthens critical supporting muscles
- Managing weight
- Avoiding tobacco products and excessive alcohol consumption
- Practicing good posture when sitting, standing and sleeping
While a healthy lifestyle can be very effective, more severe cases of spinal stenosis may require a combination of conservative treatments and interventional pain management to enable a good quality of life.
What Are My Treatment Options for Spinal Stenosis?
Doctors and pain management specialists will generally begin with basic therapies for spinal stenosis cases. This can include rest, over-the-counter medication, alternating a heating pad with a cold compress and performing gentle stretches. If symptoms do not respond to initial therapies, or get worse, additional interventions may be recommended, including:
- Physical therapy
- Pain management injections
- Nerve blocks
- Spinal cord stimulators
- Therapeutic massage
Spine surgery may be recommended for spinal stenosis if weeks or months of nonsurgical therapies have been attempted without finding the relief necessary for a good quality of life. Thanks to the development of minimally invasive procedures, spine surgeons can now relieve spinal stenosis with outpatient procedures that use muscle-sparing techniques and only require a small incision.
Reach Out to PPOA Today for Spinal Stenosis Relief
If you’re living with spinal stenosis and are seeking a better quality of life, Physician Partners of America (PPOA) can help. We specialize in helping patients from all walks of life develop a personalized treatment plan that achieves lasting relief. From interventional pain management to minimally invasive spine surgery, you can find relief no matter where you are on your pain relief journey.
Contact the dedicated team at PPOA today.