Spinal stenosis occurs when the open spaces within your spine are narrowed. This puts painful pressure on your spinal cord as well as the nerves that extend out from the spine. Usually spinal stenosis is located in the lower back or the neck.
What are the common symptoms of spinal stenosis?
In some cases, there are no apparent spinal stenosis symptoms, but usually it causes numbness, pain, weakened muscles, and problems with bowel or bladder function. For the most part, symptoms progress gradually, getting worse with the passage of time. Symptoms will vary depending upon the portion of the spine that is affected by the stenosis.
When spinal stenosis is centered in the lumbar (lower back) region, compressed nerves result in pain or leg cramps that occur when walking or standing for a prolonged period of time. Usually, these symptoms can be minimized by bending forward or sitting down.
When spinal stenosis is located in the neck, painful pressure on the upper (cervical) spine can produce weakness, numbness, or tingling in an arm, foot or leg. In extreme cases, incontinence may be caused by severe irritation of the nerves that control the bladder and bowel.
What is the cause of spinal stenosis?
The normal wear and tear that takes place with aging is most frequently the cause of spinal stenosis. For those people who are born with a spinal canal that is smaller than most, the likelihood of incurring spinal stenosis is increased. Other causes may include bone spurs, small bony protrusions that develop on the surface of bones, which have grown into the spinal canal.
A herniated disc may be to blame; when a crack develops in these natural shock absorbers which separate each vertebra of the spine, the soft cushioning material it contains made bulge outward and press painfully on nerves or the spinal cord. The tough ligaments that anchor the spine together can grow thick and stiff over time and can bulge into the spinal canal.
Abnormal growths inside spine are another possibility; these tumors sometimes are found in the membrane that covers the spinal cord or in the gaps between the vertebrae and spinal cord. A car accident or other major injury can dislocate or fracture the spine and damage the contents of your spinal canal. Swollen tissue after back surgery is also known to exert painful pressure on the nerves or spinal cord.
What are the complications of spinal stenosis?
In extreme cases of spinal stenosis, other complications may develop including paralysis, incontinence, weakness, or numbness.
When should I see a pain management doctor in Orange County if I believe I may have spinal stenosis?
If you suffer from persistent pain, weakness in your arms, legs, or back, or are experiencing numbness, it’s time to make an appointment with an Orange County pain clinic.
How is spinal stenosis diagnosed?
Accurate diagnosis of spinal stenosis can be difficult because it symptoms and signs are much like those associated with many other conditions that come with aging. Beyond studying your medical history and symptoms, additional image testing can be useful.
These tests may include: X-rays to provide images of the structures within your spine; magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to provide cross-sectional images of your spine;
computerized tomography (CT scans) to take advantage of contrast dye injected into the affected area to reveal the outlines of your nerves and spinal cord, indicating the possible location of tumors, bone spurs, or herniated discs.
How is spinal stenosis treated?
Your treatment for spinal stenosis will vary depending upon your diagnosis and the location of the affected parts of your spine. Controlling your pain is essential to successful treatment. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can help to reduce your inflammation and relieve your pain. Muscle relaxants can inhibit muscle spasms. Anti-depressants are useful in easing chronic pain. Anti-seizure drugs have proven beneficial in reducing the pain of nerve damage, while opioids like Oxycontin and Vicodin, although potentially habit-forming, are powerful aids for symptom relief.
Your pain management doctor in Anaheim, Irvine, Santa Ana and OC may recommend you working with a physical therapist to help maintain the stability and flexibility of your spine, improve your balance, and increase your endurance and strength. Corticosteroid injections into the epidural space are the gold standard for pain relief nonoperatively and can help bring down inflammation and provide some relief from painful pressure.
If other treatments fail to produce the desired results, if you are disabled because of your symptoms, and if otherwise your health is good, your doctor may want you to consider surgery. Surgery can help relieve the painful pressure on your nerves and spinal cord. In some extreme instances, it may also be necessary to fuse some of your vertebrae together to give greater strength to your spine.