Spinal stenosis is narrowing of the space in the spinal canal, the cavity in the spine that contains and protects the spinal cord. If there’s less space, then there’s less room for the spinal cord and spinal nerves, leading to irritation or pinching of the nerves — which causes neck or low back pain.
You can have spinal stenosis and not have any problems. In fact, it’s not unusual to learn you have narrowing in the spine after imaging tests for other health concerns.
At Interventional Pain Associates in Austin, Texas, our pain specialist, Dr. Sarosh Saleemi, diagnoses and treats all types of pain conditions involving the spine.
Learning that you have narrowing in the space that contains your spinal cord can leave you feeling a bit anxious. Here, we want to explain what it means to have spinal stenosis and what you can do about it.
About spinal stenosis
Spinal stenosis means there’s less space inside the area of the spine that protects and contains your spinal cord, the part of the central nervous system that accepts and relays messages between the body and brain. The narrowing may occur in any part of the spine, but most often occurs in the cervical (neck) and lumbar (lower back) spine.
Spinal stenosis affects people of all ages. Some people are born with a narrower spinal canal. However, most people with spinal stenosis develop the narrowing as they get older due to degenerative changes in the spine.
Narrowing in the spinal canal causes problems when the vertebra or intervertebral discs irritate or pinch the spinal cord or a spinal nerve.
Signs and symptoms of spinal stenosis
You can have spinal stenosis and not have any signs or symptoms. However, spinal stenosis is a progressive condition, and when symptoms start, they worsen over time.
The type of symptoms you have depend on where you have the narrowing. Common signs and symptoms of spinal stenosis include:
- Neck or back pain
- Burning or aching sensation that radiates into the arms or legs
- Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
- Weakness in the hands, arms, feet, or legs
Your symptoms may feel worse when you walk, stand, or extend the spine and lessen when you bend forward (flexing the spine). Flexing the spine opens the space in the spinal canal, relieving pressure on the spinal cord and spinal nerves.
Spinal stenosis is a common cause of sciatica, compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve causing pain that radiates down the back of the leg.
Treating spinal stenosis
Treatment for spinal stenosis depends on the severity of your symptoms and the location of the narrowing. If your symptoms are mild, we recommend applying heat to the area to increase blood flow and relax the muscles.
When at-home care no longer eases your symptoms, we recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), physical therapy, and interventional pain procedures like steroid injections to ease your pain.
Most people with spinal stenosis don’t need surgery. However, if your symptoms are severe and make it hard to walk or control your bowel or bladder, then you may need a surgical procedure to increase space in the spinal canal to relieve pressure and pain.
Spinal stenosis is a progressive condition, but one you can manage without surgery. We take a holistic approach to pain management and can develop a plan that can best help you. Call our office or click the “book online” button to make an appointment with our pain specialist today.