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Spinal stenosis: What is it and how is treated?

Sciatica, difficulty standing or walking, loss of bladder or bowel control, foot drop — these are all symptoms of a spinal condition known as spinal stenosis.

The spine is made up of small, connected bones called vertebrae and shock-absorbing discs that together form a canal to protect the spinal cord. Your spinal cord is key to your central nervous system and connects your brain to your body. Changes in the spine can cause the space between the vertebrae to shrink, narrowing the spinal column and putting pressure on the spinal cord and/or surrounding nerves.

Although some people are born with it, spinal stenosis mostly affects adults over age 50. Spinal stenosis can cause back pain, tingling or numbness in your legs, arms or torso.

Various factors can cause this condition, but arthritis is the leading cause of spinal stenosis. Arthritis causes a breakdown of the cartilage and tissue between bones and increases growth of bone tissue. This can cause bone spurs to grow, ligaments of the spine to thicken and other spinal changes, all of which which puts pressure on your spinal cord and nerves.

Other potential causes of spinal stenosis include herniated discs, injuries, tumors and Paget’s disease, which causes abnormally large, brittle bones.

There is no cure for spinal stenosis, but there are a variety of treatment options — surgical and nonsurgical — and exercises that can be done to help minimize pain associated with the condition. Most people with spinal stenosis are able to continue living their normal lives.

Unless symptoms are severe, the first course of treatment for spinal stenosis is non-surgical treatments, which may include pain-relieving medications or muscle relaxants; corticosteroid injections to reduce inflammation; and/or anesthetics to temporarily relieve pain.

Exercise — particularly flexibility and strength exercises — may also help alleviate symptoms associated with the condition. In some cases, your doctor may recommend working with a physical therapist. Assistive devices such as braces, a corset or a walker can help some people with the condition maintain mobility.

In severe cases in which the individual is struggling to walk or suffering from bladder or bowel control, decompression surgery to create space between the vertebrae to reduce inflammation may be recommended. Some patients find relief through alternative treatments such as chiropractic adjustment and acupuncture, but be sure to tell your doctor about any nontraditional treatments you may be contemplating.

In any case, exercise, good posture and weight loss can help relieve pressure on your spinal column and alleviate symptoms such as numbness, tingling and pain.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of spinal stenosis, especially loss of bladder and/or bowel control, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with Dr. Kushwaha today.

About Vivek Kushwaha

Vivek P. Kushwaha attended the University of Texas at Austin where he earned his B.A. from the College of Natural Sciences. He then earned his medical degree from the University of Texas Medical School at San Antonio, Texas.

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