Your spine plays an integral part in everything from walking or standing to bending or lifting, and so much more. Without proper spine health, you might find it difficult to work, socialize, or even sleep. Unfortunately, a large percentage of people struggle with debilitating back pain on a daily basis without even knowing the reasons behind it.
Spinal stenosis is one of these conditions that a lot of people end up developing. This can result in concerning symptoms. But what causes spinal stenosis? Are you at risk for having this condition? Most importantly: what are the treatment options that will help you to reduce the amount of back pain you have? Let’s go through all of these questions and more below.
What Is Spinal Stenosis?
To simplify, spinal stenosis is a term that describes the narrowing of the spinal column. But what does this mean exactly? Well, there are spaces in between the bones in the spine. These are meant to act as a cushion between the bones to allow for freer, safer movement. In somebody with spinal stenosis, these spaces become narrower or compressed. This can happen in the neck, lower back, or another part of the spine.
Depending on the location of the spinal stenosis as well as the severity of it, you might experience symptoms such as:
- Ongoing back and/or neck pain
- Pain when standing
- Numbness and tingling in the legs
- Burning pain throughout the back
- Bladder concerns
This narrowing of the spinal column can usually be detected in imaging, such as an X-ray. If you suspect that you might have spinal stenosis, talk to your doctor about all of your symptoms. This way, you will be able to determine the next steps in the process of being diagnosed.
Spinal stenosis is a relatively common condition for people to be diagnosed with in the United States and the prevalence of it increases in older age groups. This is because of the nature of the condition, as age is a major factor behind the wear and tear of all bones or joints.
But though spinal stenosis is more often seen in people who are 50 or older, it can happen to anyone. That said, what causes spinal stenosis? Knowing the answer to this question might be able to help you find the right type of relief for your own symptoms.
What Are the Causes Behind This Condition?
There are several different causes behind this condition. Let’s look closer to understand more on what causes spinal stenosis:
As stated above, age is one of the most common reasons as to why spinal stenosis develops. Typical wear and tear is expected as the body grows older. Many people don’t even realize that this is happening because it is gradual, meaning that it slowly gets worse over time. This doesn’t mean that every person will develop spinal stenosis as they age, but being older does increase the likelihood of experiencing a narrowing in the spine.
Apart from age, injury is another common cause for someone developing spinal stenosis. Injuries to the spine can greatly impact somebody’s overall strength, mobility, and ability to function. Depending on the type of injury, the damage can lead to further concerns, such as:
- Bulging discs
- Dislocated vertebrae
- Bone protrusions
- Nerve compression or damage
All of these injuries increase the chances of somebody developing spinal stenosis, even if they’ve healed from the injury. Any type of damage to the spine can be long-lasting if not treated immediately or with the appropriate level of care.
3. Underlying medical conditions
Certain medical conditions can also cause spinal stenosis to develop. These include:
- Arthritis—This is a condition that can take on many forms and cause a wide variety of symptoms in people, from joint inflammation to chronic pain. Certain symptoms in different types of arthritis (such as osteoarthritis) can be particularly prominent throughout the spine. Essentially, arthritis already causes the spaces between the joints to wear down over time. This condition can also cause bone growths that press on the spine, which then leads to spinal stenosis.
- Scoliosis—Spinal stenosis often occurs in people who have scoliosis, which is a curvature in the spine. This curve can put pressure on different areas of the back, leading to the break-down of discs in the spine. Just like with arthritis, the more these protective discs or tissues in the joints of the spine wear down, the more of a chance that somebody will end up with a narrowing of the spine.
- Congenital stenosis—For some people, spinal stenosis is a genetic concern. This is something that they are born with, rather than develop over time. This is known as congenital stenosis. Unfortunately, there are no preventative measures that can be taken when you have congenital stenosis—you are just born with a more narrow spine. However, there are treatment options that can help reduce the severity of symptoms as well as the long-lasting impact of this condition.
What Can Be Done for Spinal Stenosis?
Knowing what causes spinal stenosis is just the first step toward getting treatment for this condition—following through is the next step. It’s important to seek out medical care if you think you might be at risk for spinal stenosis. Not only can this condition result in a lot of pain, but spinal stenosis can actually lead to other medical concerns.
For example, cauda equina syndrome is something that can occur in people with spinal stenosis due to the narrowing of bones in the back. This syndrome is characterized by the dysfunction of the collection of nerves that form at the end of the spine and can come with concerning symptoms, such as loss of bladder control, sciatica, and even paralysis.
So, taking preventative measures to protect your spine from spinal stenosis can also protect you from further harm down the road. Moreover, maintaining your strength and wellness through treatment for spinal stenosis is essential in reducing the symptoms and the damage that could occur.
Treatment for spinal stenosis can involve:
- Physical therapy
- Medications such as anti-inflammatories
Living with spinal stenosis can be challenging, physically and emotionally. Always contact your doctor to come up with the best treatment plan possible for your specific situation. Don’t forget that you can also lean on others like you who have similar medical concerns through the Pain Resource Community. In this case, it wouldn’t hurt for someone to have your back through it all.
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