What is Spinal Stenosis?
Spinal stenosis is a condition where the space around the spinal cord and in between vertebrae narrows and puts pressure on the spine and nerves. It usually occurs in the lower back and can cause pain, tingling, numbness, or muscle weakness in the legs, buttocks, back, or arms. In more severe cases, you may have trouble with continence or sexual function.
What Causes Spinal Stenosis?
Spinal stenosis usually occurs in people age 60 or older. That’s because as we get older, our discs begin to dry out, weaken, and slowly compress, thereby reducing the space between vertebrae and interfering with nerve function. In addition, the ligaments that hold our spinal column together and the joints that help us bend and move the muscles in the back may get thicker and harder, which also reduces space around the spinal cord and in between vertebrae. However, spinal stenosis can also develop in anyone who has experienced a back injury, has a tumor growing along the spine, or has a herniated disk.
How is Spinal Stenosis Diagnosed?
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms associated with spinal stenosis, then go see a physician who specializes in pain right away. Your physician will first examine you physically to check for numbness, muscle weakness, cramping in the feet or legs, and pain. You’ll also be asked if you’ve had any difficulties with urination, bowel movements, or sexual performance.
Your doctor may also order imaging tests to confirm the diagnosis and determine the severity of your condition. These may include an X-ray, a CT scan, an MRI, and/or an EMG (electromyogram) of the spinal column and legs. Finally, your doctor may also take X-rays of your hips or knees, test your circulation, and draw blood to rule out co-existing issues or diseases with similar symptoms.
What are the Treatment Options for Spinal Stenosis?
- Medication: To treat inflammation and pain, your doctor may recommend over-the counter medications such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen.
- Cortisone injections: If over-the-counter pain medications don’t provide relief, then your doctor may inject a cortisone steroid directly into your spinal column.
- Exercise: Regular exercise can help you build and maintain strength in the muscles of your legs, backs, and abdomen. Increased muscle strength can improve your balance, enhance mobility, and reduce pain. Your doctor may recommend you see a physical therapist. Swimming, biking, or brisk walking are also good low-impact options.
- Surgery: If your symptoms are severe, then your doctor may recommend surgery to trim, remove, or adjust the parts of the spinal column that are causing the issue. In some cases, your surgeon may fuse two or more vertebrae together to provide additional support for the spine. Correcting spinal stenosis with surgery is a big step, so make sure you fully understand the risks and benefits of the procedure before making a decision.
If you’re experiencing pain that’s interfering with your quality of life, then make an appointment to see a pain specialist such as Dr. Mingi Choi of Somerset Orthopedic & Sports Medicine. Dr. Choi has more than 25 years of experience successful diagnosing and treating those who suffer from chronic pain. He is board-certified by the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and a Fellow of American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.