One common type of back problem that people have is spinal stenosis. It can be caused by many things, but is often related to aging.
What Is Spinal Stenosis?
Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spine in one or more places. It often occurs in the neck or the lower back. The bones of the vertebrae have openings that allow the nerves to pass from the spine out to the rest of the body.
When these openings become more narrow, it can place pressure on the nerves and cause pain, weakness, or numbness in the back, arms, or legs, depending on which nerves are affected. A stenosis in the neck usually affects the arms, while a stenosis in the lower back usually affects the legs.
Symptoms of Stenosis
Symptoms of stenosis are not the same for everyone, but some common symptoms include:
- Weakness of the arms or legs
- Poor coordination of the affected limbs
- Decreased sensation of the affected limbs
- Problems with bowel or bladder function
If the stenosis is in the lower back, the pain may be aggravated by standing or walking, and it may ease if you bend over or sit down. Some people may not realize they’re weaker than they were, but they may notice that they drop things more often (if the stenosis affects the neck) or that they are more likely to fall (if the stenosis is in the low back).
Causes of Spinal Stenosis
The most common cause of stenosis is osteoarthritis of the spine. As wear and tear occurs on the vertebrae, the body tries to repair itself. This often results in bony spurs that take up the space where the nerve is trying to exit the spine to the rest of the body.
Another common cause is degenerative disc disease. This is another factor relating to TMB syndrome (Too Many Birthdays). Between each vertebrae, there is a disc that acts as a cushion for our spine. As we age, this cushion begins to get flatter and bulge out into the spinal column, causing a narrowing of the space.
Finally, a third thing that is related to these is that the ligaments, or tough connective tissue that holds the bones together, get thicker and stiffer. This ligaments then take up space in the spinal column.
Other, much less common causes of spinal stenosis include Paget’s disease of the bone, achondroplasia, spinal tumors or spinal injuries.
In order to determine whether stenosis is present, and if it is, the cause of the stenosis and how bad it is, the doctor may order an x-ray or MRI. Electromyography may also be used to determine how much the nerves are being irritated.
Physical Therapy for Spinal Stenosis
Recently edited. Originally published: June 22, 2010.