Spinal stenosis is a commonly occurring medical condition where the spaces within your spine narrow due to normal wear and tear or changes in the spine triggered by the onset of osteoarthritis.
While some people with spinal stenosis may not experience any symptoms, spinal stenosis can put pressure on your spinal nerves resulting in tingling, numbness, muscle weakness and moderate to sometimes quite severe pain.
Spinal stenosis occurs most frequently in the neck and lower back and the symptoms can become progressively worse over time. Most sufferers are over 50 years of age.
Common Causes Of Spinal Stenosis
While there is a range of spinal stenosis symptoms that can develop over time, they can all have a debilitating effect on your quality of life. Neck or back pain can impact your relationships, compromise your work performance and interfere with your lifestyle.
To effectively treat any symptoms, a qualified medical professional must first accurately diagnose the condition. From there they can develop a comprehensive treatment strategy tailored to your specific case.
Spinal Stenosis Symptoms And Their Primary Triggers
Spinal stenosis is not always painful. Pain and other symptoms surface when the cause of the narrowing of the disc such as a bulging disc or a bone spur places excessive pressure on a nerve root or the spinal cord.
When the nerve is compressed, a range of symptoms of varying severity can appear. Common spinal stenosis symptoms include:
- Pins-and-needles sensation in the fingers or toes
- Numbness or tingling in the extremities
- Stiffness or soreness
- Muscle weakness
- Diminished reflexes
- Focal pain near the compression site
- Pain radiating along a nerve
- Burning pain
The exact location where the spinal stenosis symptoms surface is often determined by the area of the spine affected.
Stenosis in the upper or cervical spine in the neck can cause symptoms to appear throughout the upper body and extending into the arms and hands. Alternatively, stenosis in the lower back in the lumbar region of the spine can trigger pain in the hips, legs and the feet.
Current Treatment Options
If after experiencing any of the symptoms described earlier you have been diagnosed with spinal stenosis, there are several treatment options open to you. The efficacy of each will depend on your condition’s specific details.
In framing a treatment strategy, your doctor will consider your age, the suspected underlying cause of your condition and the exact type and severity of the symptoms you experience.
In most cases, treatment begins with a series of conservative therapies. This often comprises a combination of anti-inflammatory drugs and low-impact exercises followed by hot and cold compression therapy and rest.
Many people suffering from spinal stenosis try to reduce their pain by reducing their activity. However, that may induce muscle weakness, further heightening their pain response. Simple exercises may help you to increase your strength and endurance and maintain your spine’s flexibility while stabilising it.
With spinal stenosis, the nerve roots may experience localised irritation and swelling where they are being compressed. Injecting a steroid into the area surrounding the compressed area won’t cure the stenosis. However in some patients, it can assist in decreasing the degree of inflammation thus alleviating some of the pain associated with the condition.
Steroid injections don’t provide relief for everyone. Moreover, multiple steroid injections may weaken neighbouring connective tissue and bones, limiting the number of steroid injections you can receive each year.
There has also been increased concern about the lack of reliable evidence on spinal injections’ effectiveness. There is little scientific literature supporting their use for long-term spinal health – they appear to be more effective for acute sports injuries than spine health and have already met criticism from the United States’ FDA for side-effects.
Before you opt for a spinal injection (or any invasive medical procedure), you should consider the side-effects and possible risks. Read our full article on spinal injections.
Decompression or PILD procedure is another treatment option. This procedure removes a thin slice of the thickened ligament at the rear of the spinal column, increasing the space around the spinal canal and relieving the nerve compression.
As it is performed without a general anaesthetic, it is often considered a viable alternative for some patients with high surgical risks due to unrelated medical conditions.
It’s important to understand that surgical intervention has its place, but only works for a specific patient group and not everyone fits that ideal profile. For some patients, this is the driving factor when it comes to seeking a second opinion before any invasive treatments.
Talk to your doctor about the treatment plan that’s best for your specific condition. If your symptoms are mild, your doctor may elect to monitor your condition with regular follow-up appointments.
You can also practice many of the self-care therapies outlined comfortably at home. In many cases, this treatment strategy may provide sufficient relief for patients to return to their normal work and leisure activities.
Consult A Qualified Physician
At Brisbane Spine Clinic we offer a second opinion to spinal surgery. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms described above, book a consultation with one of our spinal consultants. It’s important to act as symptoms can become progressively more severe over time.
*Please note, content within this article is for educational purposes only and treatment and advice mentioned may not be suited for everyone. Please consult a team member at the Brisbane Spine Clinic or your General Practitioner for specific advice.