In short, spinal stenosis is a condition where spinal canal becomes narrow and restricts the spinal cord along its path. Spinal cord is a part of the central nervous system (along with the brain) which controls pretty much everything that goes around in our body by sending and receiving electrical impulses.
These impulses are signals our brain sends and receives from the body and in case of injury, these pathways can become severed and our brain loses control over the body.
There are three main types of spinal stenosis based on the section of the spine it affects:
- Cervical – located in the cervical (neck) section of the spine
- Thoracic – affecting the section of the spine at the back of the rib cage
- Lumbar – located in the lumbar region
Even though stenosis can be found in any of these areas, it is most common in the upper, cervical area.
What Causes It?
The main cause are degenerative changes. These changes may occur naturally, in people older than 50, but they can also be congenital. Wear and tear in combination with repetitive motion is the number one cause of many spinal problems so maintaining a proper posture and keeping our spine in check should be your primary concerns.
Few days ago we talked about bone spurs, bony growths on the spine appearing naturally as we grow older. They can also narrow the spinal canal and put additional pressure on the spinal cord and the surrounding nerves.
Other common causes of SS are:
- Ossification in various sections of the spine
- Swelling and inflammation in the joints(arthritis)
- Physical injuries followed by dislocation and/or fracture in the vertebrae
- A herniated disc
- Stiff ligaments which lost their flexibility for various reasons
The Most Common Symptoms
Spinal canal stenosis by itself usually present with no evident symptoms, and patient may have it for years before they realize something is not right. Also, they will start appearing gradually, but may worsen as the time goes by.
Patients with lumbar stenosis will often experience pain, weakness or numbness in the legs or buttocks, mainly around the lower parts of the body. In most cases, the pain will intensify during walking and relief is felt when sitting and lying. Pain in the legs is similar to the symptoms of sciatica.
Cervical stenosis causes similar symptoms in the shoulders, arms and sometimes legs. Patients balance may also be impaired.
In some cases the neural damage will be so severe that it will cause a failure of some motor functions in the body and interfere with the normal, everyday activities.
How To Diagnose It?
Before a doctor makes the correct diagnosis, he must first rule out all other possible causes. Some of the following approaches might be used to make this distinction:
- X-ray imaging : This process can be used to view the outside structure of the vertebrae and any bone spurs – osteophytes
- Magnetic resonance imaging – MRI : This scan reveals three-dimensional structure of the spinal canal and intervertebral openings through which nerves arise from the spinal cord, so this is a good way to spot degenerative changes and possible tumors
- Imaging with computed tomography – CT : Test shows the position and shape of the spinal canal and the contents therein ( the spinal cord ) making the vertebrae and intervertebral discs more visible than the neural structures
- Vertebral bone density measurement : This measurement , which uses radioactive x-rays can be used to detect vertebral fractures or injuries , tumors , infections and possible arthritis or osteoarthritis
Best Exercises And Treatment
Staying active and exercising regularly will not only help you deal with back problems and pains, it will also boost your immune system, the overall health, strength and flexibility.
So exercising is always a good idea, and it will help you fight spinal canal stenosis, as it will increase the blood flow to the back, helping your body rid of toxins faster and supply it with necessary nutrients. It will also strengthen the muscles and restore the balance to your posture.
A proper rehabilitation program will include a combination of stretching, strengthening and endurance exercises.
We talked about the best stretching exercises already, you can read the article here – Why Stretching Is Important For Your Back
As for the strengthening exercises, you can try some we recommended here – Best Morning Workout
And good ways to increase your endurance and overall physical fitness is riding a bicycle, swimming or going for long walks.
Of course, the correct way of dealing with your problem will largely depend on its cause. Obviously, if you are faced with some sort of degenerative, anatomical change of your spine, simple exercises may not help you and surgery may be the best way to go.
This is why I always recommend visiting your doctor, before making any assumptions yourself, based on the information you get online.