Spinal Stenosis – An Analysis of the Symptoms, Causes, Treatment & Prevention

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spinal stenosis
Spinal stenosis

As we start to age our bodies begin to show the signs of wear and tear.  Sometimes, the body gets weaker and can no longer perform basic movements. Skeletal muscle, also known as lean muscle, keeps our muscles attached to the bone.  As the aging process continues this system starts to deteriorate.  This is one of the reasons our bodies start to look flabby, almost as if our skin and muscles are trying to get away from us!  Tissue can no longer heal as quickly as it could before or as compared to younger person.

When our bones start to lose their density or thickness they get weaker and may become brittle. This loss of bone density is what makes the bones frail and leads to breakage.  As the process continues, the result  is a well known disease called osteoporosis.  Changes in bone, collapse of vertebrae, and lack of self-care all play a role and may lead to a severe, painful condition known as spinal stenosis.

What it is Spinal Stenosis?

Spinal Stenosis, also known as Canal stenosis, is a medical condition where the space between the spinal cavity starts to reduces. This medical condition is usually associated with individuals that are 50 years of age and older; however, there are some individuals who are born with a smaller spinal canal. Recent studies show that middle aged adults are also developing spinal stenosis. It’s important to note that spinal stenosis affects the entirety of the spine. So individuals who suffer from spinal stenosis can feel pain in their neck down to their lower back all the way down to their leg.

The spine is a series of bones, medically called vertebrates, that is crucial for posture, walking, running, and performing activities of daily living. Connected to the spine is the central nervous system that deliver information throughout the body.  For those individuals who suffer with spinal stenosis they often feel pain, numbness or a tingling feeling in their lower backs, shoulder, arms and down to their legs.

 

 

Those who suffer from spinal stenosis have their vertebrates compressed. The space between the vertebrae start to get smaller and causes the nerves to be pinched. This is one reason why some people feel numbness or in more severe cases start to develop slight levels of paralysis.

There are three main forms of spinal stenosis that occur in the body:

  • Lumbar Spinal Stenosis – This is the most common of all the forms. This affects the majority of people who suffer from spinal stenosis and pain is felt greatly in the lower back region.
  • Thoracic Spinal Stenosis – This is the rarest form and those who suffer from this form experience pain in the middle and upper region of the spine.
  • Cervical spinal stenosis – For individuals who suffer with this form, pain is felt around the neck region and can lead to some very serious health issues later on such as extreme weakness, numbness, peripheral neuropathy, and paralysis.

Herniated-Disc-thoracic-Spine

What are the Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis?

For many individuals these symptoms start small and escalate quickly into severe, debilitating health issues. The signs and symptoms to watch for are:

  • severe neck pain
  • back pain, especially in the lower region of the back
  • sciatica which is a shooting pain that travels down the leg (the pain is initiated in the lower back)
  • foot pain
  • difficultly in standing upright
  • easy to lose one’s balance
  • involuntary use of bladder and bowel
  • nerves are weakened
  • numbness, in severe case possible paralysis
  • pain in shoulders, arms and hands
  • pain when having to bend over or lift objects

What Causes Spinal Stenosis?

Spinal Stenosis is caused by a several factors that can easily be prevented. Individuals who develop spinal stenosis tend to live a sedentary lifestyle. Lack of exercise, improper diet, many hours sitting down or lying down are some of the reasons people develop spinal stenosis; however, these are not the only reasons.

Osteoarthritis – Arthritis is a major factor in the development of spinal stenosis. There are many forms of arthritis that individuals can develop. For the purposes of this article, arthritis of the spinal cord is presented.

  • Symptoms of Osteoarthritis –is a disease of the bone, swelling, creaking and warmth can be felt around the arthritic area with pain and stiffness coupled with loss of cartilage (which causes the friction of the bones).
  • Osteoarthritis of the spine – is a form of arthritis that is a degenerative joint disease. Osteoarthritis of the spine is the breaking down of the cartilage triggering swelling of the  vertebrate to swell and lower back pain.  As time progresses, there is  deterioration of the cartilage which cushions the top of the bone. This wear and tear causes swelling and pain which in turn can lead to a herniated disc and other back health conditions.
  • The symptoms of Osteoarthritis of the Spine – include numbness, tingling sensation, and severe pain due to bony spurs being formed around the arthritic spine.

Herniated/ Bulging discs- Our spines are made up of small bones called vertebrate. Vertebrates are small, bony discs that act as shock absorbers and help the spine remain flexible. When a disc is damaged it can become ruptured resulting in a herniated disc.

  • What causes this to happen? As we age the spine starts to dry out and lose flexibility and the ability to pivot. Wear and tear, injuries, accidents, falls all take their toll.  If a hairline fracture or crack occurs due to an injury, the liquid gel that is in the spine leaks out causing the disc to bulge out.

Tumors- Abnormal growths can occur around the spine. These growths can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous) and are known as spinal tumors. As the pressure builds, they can contribute to developing spinal stenosis. There are three types of spinal tumors:

  1. Vertebral Column Tumors are growths that affect the vertebrae.
  2. Extramedullary Tumors happen outside the dura mater tissue.
  3. Intramedullary Tumors happen inside the dura, but outside of the spinal cord.

Paget’s disease- is a chronic condition in which the bones break down and formation of new bone is altered. It is not known what causes Paget disease; however, it is theorized that genetics may play a role.

  • Some symptoms of Paget’s Disease include pain in the bones and joints, headaches and hearing loss, pressure on nerves (causing tingling sensation, numbness, weakness in muscles and severe pain), and curvature of the spine.

Sciatica- is pain that begins in the lower back region that travels down to the leg following the sciatic nerve. The nerve is a large nerve cord that extends from the lower back down to the leg.

  • Symptoms of Sciatica- include lower back pain, weakness, numbness, difficulty moving the legs, persistent pain in a certain region of the lower back and leg, and shooting pain that makes it strenuous to stand.

 

Sciatica-Featured

Risk Factors of Spinal Stenosis

There are several risk factors common among individuals in the development of this condition.

  • Incontinence is the lack of voluntary control over urination and defection.
  • Partial or full paralysis – The devastating  condition will impact many lives. As numbness and weakness progresses the result may be mild level to full blown paralysis as nerve compression and damage continue.
  • Sexual dysfunction – The spine is a highway for nerve signals to be sent to the brain. When they become damaged, the neurological pathway gets altered. Signals sent from certain parts of the body are no longer received by the brain; therefore, our bodies do not behave the way we wish them to.

 

© Sport the library/Tom Putt Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games Athletics – Patricia Flavel (AUS) at finish line

Diagnosing Spinal Stenosis

What can you expect from your doctor?  There are three major imaging tests that the healthcare provide can order to confirm a spinal stenosis diagnosis.

  • X- Rays- use a small amount of radiation that passes through the body and captures an image of the inside. This is helpful in pinpointing whether a bone is fractured, compressed, or broken.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)- MRI is a test that doesn’t use radiation, rather it uses a magnetic field and pulses of radio waves. MRIs are able to reveal problems that X-Rays and CT Scans might miss.

Herniated-Disc-x-ray-imaging

  • CT Myelogram- is perhaps the most useful way of trying to find out if you have developed spinal stenosis. This process involves using an X-Ray and a special dye called contrast material. What this method looks for are tumors, infections and any complications in the spine. One disadvantage of this method is the radiation exposure and/or the special dye can cause an allergic reaction. CT Myelograms specifically search for:

 

Treatments

There are medical and holistic treatments that one can select to help reduce the pain you feel. These treatments only help to reduce the pain, not completely eliminate the pain.  Medical Treatments that are available include:

Medication –There are medications individuals can take to help alleviate the pain temporarily such as aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen and naproxen, just to name a few. This is perhaps the most common method of trying to deal with spinal stenosis; however,  it is not the most effective, as individuals can become dependent on this form of treatment.

Spondylolisthesis-medication-treatment-nsaid-ibuprofen-naproxen

Corticosteroid injections- Cortisone is a steroid that has become a treatment for those who have arthritis. The drug helps to lower inflammation in individuals and helps to reduce the pain they feel. The advantage of having an injection is quick pain relief. However, there are some disadvantages and risks which include:

  • Infections, the body might react negatively towards the shot
  • Shrinkage and lightening of the color of the skin
  • Aggravation of inflammation (Injection Flare)

Anesthetics- are injections that can stop the pain. It is injected into the spinal area and nerve root. The results are that this injection completely blocks pain from the region. Nevertheless there are disadvantages to this treatment as well. They include changes or alterations in:

Dietary Consumption – The phrase we are what we eat is a very poignant adage. The quality of food we eat is a major factor in guiding our overall health. If our diet consists of a lot of processed food and trans fats that is a sure way to developing not just one form of a chronic disorder but multiple chronic disorders. Going on an anti-inflammatory diet is a great way to help reduce the pain of the spinal stenosis and potentially prevent it. Having a healthy diet along with exercise is a sure way to keep the body at maximum performance. List of foods to stay away from because they cause inflammation, along with other negative health factors:

  • Processed Food
  • Trans fat
  • Fried Food
  • White sugar and sweets
  • Dairy products
  • Meat
  • Wheat Products
  • Foods containing Gluten
  • Alcohol

Runners-Guide-Stress-Fracture-plant-based-diet

It is important to have a diet plan that incorporates:

  • Fatty Fish (for those who still want to eat meat)- Salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines.
  • Dark Greens
  • Whole Grain
  • Garlic and Onions
  • Berries
  • Avocados
  • Nuts (Almonds and Walnuts)
  • Cruciferous Vegetables
  • Beans

For many individuals changing their diet is not the easiest thing to do. This is because foods that cause inflammation are part of the daily dietary intake and more importantly these foods are very addictive.  It has been researched and shown that processed food is as addictive as cocaine so it can be very difficult to simply change one’s diet. However, the benefits of consuming a healthy diet have untold benefits towards the body, mind, and spirit.  It’s important to give some time and thought to consuming healthy food. In making right eating choices apart of our daily routine,  you will notice your body starting to desire more healthy foods that are high in the vitamins and minerals.

Physical ExertionsExercising does wonders for the body! The benefits of exercises are numerous and there really isn’t a better alternative than exercising to prevent medical conditions and to help to alleviate some health problems. Exercising the body maintain strength and flexibility. Specifically, in this case, strength and flexibility training is incredibly beneficial for those who suffer from lower back pains. Three major exercises for someone who suffers from spinal stenosis to consider are:

Walking- Just simply walk for thirty minutes . This has been shown and proven to increase peoples bone density.

Stretching – For many stretching isn’t part of a daily routine but it is extremely advantageous to stretch in the morning and at night. Stretching the body, especially the spine, will have major positive effects on the spine. It helps to keep the muscle young and elastic along with a host of other benefits including:

  • Better Flexibility – helps individual to have a better range of motion. A common trait in individuals who have spinal stenosis is the inability to perform certain movements. Bending over can cause excruciating pain.
  • Helps to release stress in the body – Our bodies are tense because of holding on to mental and physical stress. The great advantage of stretching is that not only does it release stress form the body physically but also mentally and emotionally.
  • Reinforces a proper posture – Stretching helps to ensure the individual keeps a proper posture. Stretching the lower back and the spinal cord is a great way to keep the spine aligned.
  • Risk of injury is abated – Stretching helps to supply blood flow and key nutrients throughout the body allowing for a speedier recovery.

Lumbar-Lordosis-back-strengthening-exercise

Here are a few example of some stretches you can do for you spine (which are not too difficult for those who already have spinal stenosis):

  • Step 1: Lie down on your back. (Make sure you have a yoga mat)
  • Step 2: Place hands to your side
  • Step 3: Raise your hip off ground. (This will target the lower back

 

  • Step 1: Lie on your stomach
  • Step 2: Keep hands to your side
  • Step 3: Slowly raise up. (This stretch targets the lower back)

Swimming – Perhaps the best of these three exercises one can do to help strengthen and improve ones spine and treat spinal stenosis is swimming. Swimming has a myriad of positive benefits.

  • easier to handle movements
  • strengthens and tones muscles
  • helps joints and ligaments stay loose and flexible
  • a calorie burning exercise
  • it’s fun!!!
Underwater shot of professional male athlete swimming in pool

The Arthritis Foundation has commented that those who suffer from arthritis need to stretch and strengthen the muscles and perform some form of aerobic exercise. The beauty behind swimming is that is does all of these three! Now, as one starts to feel some levels of pain reduction, one can start to increase the phase and intensity of exercising. Weight training is a great way to help improve the muscles and bone density. Lifting weights can actually help to reverse the condition.

Spinal Fusion (Arthrodesis)- is a major surgery where two or more vertebrate are joined or fused together. However, there is not much research about the after effects of the procedure. Along with the lack of strongly supported research, the cost is quite expensive. Pain might still last even after the surgery. For those who undergo the operation they may need to temporarily wear a brace to help support the back.

 

Lumbar-Lordosis-TLSO-brace

The operation along with being very expensive, there are problems that might occur after the operation has been completed. Noticeable risks involved in undergoing this operation are:

  • Pain at the bone graft
  • Rejection of the graft
  • Infection
  • Nerve Injury
  • The fusion might fail and the metal that holds the fusion together could break

This should all be taken into consideration when contemplating whether or not one wants to pursue this avenue when trying to alleviate spinal stenosis.

Laminectomy- is a surgery that will help to create space between bones so that inflammation can go down. The surgery involves the doctor removing the lamina (a thin, flat plate or stratum) along with bone spurs (bony projections). This surgery is also called lumbar laminectomy, cervical laminectomy,  decompressive laminectomy. This surgery is used only when spinal stenosis starts to interfere in someones quality of life.  The risk of undergoing this surgery are quite numerous:

  • damaging the spinal nerve
  • an infection might occur
  • the treatment might prove unsuccessful and the pain will remain
  • blood clots in the legs
  • a stroke
  • a heart attack
  • the medication might cause a sever reaction

Herniated-Disc-Laminectomy

The spinal fusion and laminectomy operations are very expensive with no guarantee that the surgical procedure will leave individual free from pain. Along with this operation there are risks associated with any surgical procedure. Because of the many risk associated with the operation, some doctors inform their patients about alternative methods before going through wth the surgical procedure.

Acupuncture- might seem to be stretching the imagination for some individuals but there is research that have shows that acupuncture has many beneficial qualities to it. Acupuncture is a Eastern method of dealing with pain throughout the body. For many, acupuncture is associated with a lot of needles inserted into a person’s body. What is not known is that these needles are inserted in specific places throughout the body called meridians. In acupuncture the doctors believe that the body has something called “chi”. This chi is energy that flows throughout the body.

When a person experiences pain it is because the flow of their chi is being blocked. When the doctors insert the needles into the body the doctors are getting the energy to flow throughout the body. This might sound very alien to many people, especially if you live in the west. However, research has shown that acupuncture helps to release endorphins. Endorphins are the body’s natural pain killers.  Research has shown that those who suffer from spinal stenosis and  participated in the study experienced less pain after the research experiment was completed. App

Chiropractic- Chiropractors approach to this issue with something called subluxation of the spine. Subluxation of the spine is when the vertebrae don’t move as they well as they could and should. The chiropractor basically tries to get the joints and bones to move as they should.

Chiropractic
Credit Source: Physical Therapy for Spondylolisthesis

Application of hot to cold treatments –The method of applying hot to cold is also a great way to help alleviate one’s pain. Adding a hot clothe will help to loosen up muscles. Cold will help to heal inflammation. This is important as the heat will help to relax your back muscles and then applying cold ice will help to speed up the healing process. This is well known in the sports world, especially combative sports. Ice baths are very popular and have been shown to have a high level of success.

Practicing good posture- Having good posture is also an excellent way to keep from further damaging the back. The method of walking with a book on your head to walk with a correct posture and to walk upright, is another alternative technique.

Losing weight –There is much to be desired in exercising. The plethora of benefits individuals gain from exercising are greatly overlooked and taken for granted. When you don’t exercise, the body it starts to deteriorate at a very fast rate. You don’t need to go out and do hundreds off push ups or sit ups but just starting with a 30 minutes walk or a 30 minute swim at the pool will make all the difference. Keeping your body at a certain weight level is not only good for your health but also for the body overall.

lose weight by running

 

Taking a Bath – with Epsom salt or herbal soap and oils is  a great way to help reduce the pain. Eucalyptus soap and oil are well known for relaxing the muscles.

Preventing Spinal Stenosis

The adage “the best cure is prevention” is a powerful statement. For those who are born with a spinal medical condition there is no prevention. However a majority of people who have spinal stenosis can prevent this from happening. Spinal stenosis is a medical condition that can be prevented. It’s not a condition that has to happen to us. There are many exercises, specifically weight training, that have great visible benefits if done on a daily basis. It must be noted that one must start with weights that they can manage and then slowly increase the weights as they continue to improve.

There is mounting evidence that weight training can keep the body young. You might not feel as vibrant as you did in your twenties but the image of being and elder walking around with a cane and hunched over is not a deterministic experience we have to live with it. The many benefits from exercising that cannot and should not be overlooked. The body needs to be maintained in order to work at its best and to last longer.

Stress Training Weight Bodybuilder Muscular

The benefits of weight training are numerous.

  • Helps to keep muscle strong and lean- Exerting your muscles keep the muscles from becoming weak and leading to less muscle mass.
  • Helps to improve bone density- In just taking a thirty minute walk we are able to maintain our bone density. The benefits, and one that is very important, of lifting weights is the ability to improves the bones density. The higher your bone density the less likely you are to develop arthritis. This is significant for many individuals because the leading reason many people develop spinal stenosis is brought about because of arthritis.
  • Increases metabolism- This is very important because metabolism helps us burn calories. A cause for spinal stenosis and other chronic medical conditions is because of how overweight many people have become. As we age our metabolism starts to slow down but in weightlifting we can slow down the “slowing down” of our metabolism. Having a fast metabolism is a sure way to burn off the calories we gained from eating.
  • Proper posture- lifting weights can help to maintain your posture and in some cases help to improve your posture.

There is truly no better alternative prevention than that of exercising, dieting, stretching, daily checkups and cold showers. Incorporating a healthy lifestyle is key in living a long and healthy life. In changing your lifestyle you will see great changes in your life!

False Positives

In the field of medicine there are times when individuals are given false information. The fields of medicine and science are still fields that are constantly evolving and this is backed up with constant research and studying. So what are False Positives? These are results of a MRI, CT Scan or X-Ray that come back negative and are interpreted as positive. An example would be someone who went to go get an MRI on their lower back to see if they have a herniated disc. The person who looks at the scan will misinterpret it. The patient is told that everything is okay but they still feel the pain because the MRI scan was misinterpreted. Unfortunately, there are incidents when this happens. It is always a good idea to get a second opinion if the pain you feel gets worse overtime or simply just remains.

Wrapping it Up

Spinal stenosis is a prevalent medical condition that plagues the generation after generation.  Sadly there are no cures for this condition. Surgery might come off as being a panacea; however, with the plethora of risks accompanied with them it is causing doctors to offer alternative methods that are less risky. There are many ways to help ease the pain. For others who are showing minor signs of developing this disease, you can prevent it from fully developing by taking control right now.

Bone health is prevalent throughout the article. Bone health is a noteworthy “bone of contention” because it is precisely this factor that leads to the spinal stenosis, along with other factors.  With the information given this article you have discovered a variety of ways to not only prevent spinal stenosis but for those who have spinal stenosis to help alleviate the pain.

Sources used while researching for this article

The sources used for this article are listed below. These sites are respected sites with the articles written or researched by medical professionals; however, you should not take the information that has been written in this article as medical advice. Consult your doctor if you think you have spinal stenosis.

Sources

  1. Richard Weil, MEd, CDE, Senior Exercise, Medicine Net, May 02, 2017
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