What Is Stenosis? Symptoms and Causes

Symptoms:  Symptoms of spinal stenosis include pain in the region of your back where the stenosis occurs, and/or numbness, tingling and/or weakness in the arms or legs.  Symptoms are usually worse when standing straight or leaning backwards, and less severe when leaning or bending forward.  Signs of severe stenosis include altered sensations around the buttock area, abdominal bloating and changes to bowel or bladder control.  Severe stenosis symptoms are sometimes considered a medical emergency.

Causes:  The development of spinal stenosis is generally the result of degenerative processes over time, rather than the result of a traumatic injury.  The changes in the shape and size of the spinal canal throughout the aging process can place pressure on the spinal cord itself (central canal stenosis) or on the nerves coming from the spinal cord (foraminal stenosis or pinched nerve).  This pressure on the nerve can lead to symptoms of stenosis.  Genetics play an important role.  If you were born with a narrow spinal canal, you are more likely to have spinal stenosis.

Background:  The spinal canal is the space created through the round openings in each vertebra from the upper neck down through the lower back.  The spinal cord is house securely in this canal of bone which offers protection.  Early in life, this canal provides ample space for the spinal cord to rest without any pressure from surrounding bones or soft tissues.  The shape and size of the spinal canal, however, can change over time.  Ligaments around the spinal column thicken, bony spurs may develop, and discs may bulge, herniate or be pushed back into the spinal column.  These collective changes are referred to as stenosis.  Stenosis can occur anywhere in the spine.  When the changes occur in the neck, symptoms are felt in the arms and hands, while changes in the lower back bring about symptoms in the buttock, legs and feet.  Stenosis in the cervical spine (neck) is a serious condition since everything from the neck down can be affected, leading to paralysis if untreated.

Aligned Medical Approach:  We work as a team here to develop an accurate and thorough diagnosis, and a thorough understanding of where your stenosis occurs and your spinal stenosis therapy options.  We prescribe a comprehensive treatment plan aimed at reducing pain, improving range of motion, and strengthening supporting muscles.  Our initial goal is to reduce the stenosis and decrease the pressure on the affected nerves.  The treatment plan may include spinal mobilization, therapeutic stretching and strengthening exercises, electrical muscle stimulation and ice therapy.  We co-manage with therapies such as injections for muscle tightness, support braces and sometimes Vax-D decompression to repair damaged discs.  Patients are encouraged to stretch at home and we provide numerous exercises and activities to better enable you to self-manage your condition.

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