Spinal stenosis is an abnormal narrowing of the spinal canal that causes compression or squeezing of the the spinal cord and nerves that radiate from the affected area. Osteoarthritis-related bone damage is the most common cause of spinal stenosis.
Symptoms depend on where the narrowing of the spine is located. Compressed nerves in the lower spine can cause pain and cramping in your legs. The pain is most noticeable after standing for long periods or when walking. Compression of nerves in the neck can lead to pain in the neck, shoulders, arms and hands. A herniated disc can squeeze nerves in the spinal canal and cause tingling, numbness or muscle weakness radiating from your hip down the back of your leg. In severe cases, bowel function may be affected.
Diagnosis begins with a physical examination to test reflexes and body movements. Your doctor may order X-rays, but an MRI or CT scan will show conclusively if spinal stenosis is the cause of your pain.
For mild pain, anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen are the first line of treatment. Your doctor may have you work with a physical therapist to help build strength and flexibility in your spine. For moderate to severe pain, a back brace will help support the spine. Restrict your activity and work an exercise routine in gradually like walking or bike riding. Epidural steroid injections, which contain corticosteroids, can reduce inflammation around the affected nerves, providing significant relief. However, because corticosteroids can cause numerous side effects, only three shots should be administered each year.
In severe cases of spinal stenosis, surgery may be required. Decompression laminectomy is the removal of extra bone mass that has developed and is compressing the nerves. This procedure allows the nerves more space and should reduce pain. Spinal fusion can be performed separately or in conjunction with the laminectomy. This procedure fuses two or more vertebrae together to offer more support for the spine.
Keep your joints and spine healthy by exercising regularly, which helps maintain spinal strength and flexibility. If you sit for long periods of time, make sure you have a chair that supports your lower back. Choose a firm mattress and use pillows for support under your knees. Maintain a healthy weight, as being overweight puts undue stress on your back and joints.