Causes and Treatments of Lumbar Stenosis
Our spine is a crucial part of our anatomy. Comprised of 33 individual bones stacked on one another, it enables us to stand up straight, twist, and bend. A hollow passage runs through the center of the vertebrae. This is known as the spinal canal, and it is where our spinal cord lives – the key component of our central nervous system, which sends messages between the brain and our body, allowing us to experience sensation and to move.
When any element of the spine becomes compromised, it can have severe and debilitating effects for the patient. One of the conditions that can affect the spine is called spinal stenosis.
What is lumbar spinal stenosis?
Lumbar spinal stenosis is the term given to the narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower part of the back, known as the lumbar. This narrowing usually happens as a result of bone or tissue growing into the space, which in turn places pressure on the nerves that protrude outwards from the spinal cord.
What causes lumbar spinal stenosis?
As we get older, our bodies change. Wear and tear is unavoidable, and a condition known as degenerative disc disease is regularly diagnosed. In this condition, the soft discs between the vertebrae begin to break down, causing additional stress on them that can result in spinal stenosis. Similarly, wear and damage from osteoarthritis can prompt the formation of bone spurs, which jut out into the spinal canal and cause spinal stenosis.
Other common causes of the condition include:
- Herniated discs as a result of injury rather than ageing
- Thickened ligaments in the spine
- Abnormal growths and tumors
- Injuries to the spine
Symptoms of lumbar spinal stenosis
The symptoms of lumbar stenosis can vary widely from patient to patient, and while one person may only have lower back ache, another may find they are unable to walk. Similarly, the symptoms can also fluctuate in severity and patients can enjoy weeks and months with no indication that they are suffering from the condition.
Some of the most common symptoms of lumbar spinal stenosis include:
- Lower back pain
- Stiffness in the thighs and legs
- Numbness, weakness, cramping or pain in the buttocks, legs or even feet that gets worse when you walk, stand up straight or lean backward.
- In very serious cases, the patient may experience loss of bladder and bowel control.
You may also experience pain in the arms that has radiated outwards from the spine. This is known as radiculopathy.
Can lumbar spinal stenosis be treated?
The good news is that there are things that can be done to improve the symptoms of lumbar spinal stenosis, meaning that you don’t need to live with the debilitating effects forever.
There are a variety of non-surgical treatments that your doctor may recommend. These include:
- Pain relief medications These can help control any discomfort that you experience, although they are not recommended for long-term use.
- Antidepressants The use of antidepressant medication has been shown to help ease chronic pain conditions.
- Steroid injections Steroid injections are well known for their ability to reduce inflammation and pain. However, they can begin to weaken bones and connective tissue around the injection site and as such, can only be administered a couple of times each year, or they could cause further damage.
- Physical therapy Most patients who suffer from spinal stenosis find that the condition causes them to become much less active. However, this can cause the muscles to weaken which could actually make it harder and more painful to move. Physical therapy exercises can build muscle strength and improve your balance, countering some of the effects of spinal stenosis.
Surgical treatments for Lumbar Stenosis
- Decompression. This is a non-invasive surgical technique that can only be used when it is thickened ligaments that are causing the lumbar spinal stenosis. The process involves using thin, needle-like tools to remove a portion of the thickened ligament, thus increasing space in the spinal canal.
- Surgery. If all other attempts to improve your symptoms have been unsuccessful, you may be recommended to consider surgery. The purpose of surgery for lumbar spinal stenosis is to relieve pressure on the spinal cord and roots by creating more space within the spinal canal.
There are several different surgeries that can help treat spinal stenosis, and which is right for you will depend on your individual circumstances. The professionals at New York Spine and Sports Surgery will be able to make a recommendation for your unique condition. Want to learn more about treatments for lumbar stenosis at New York Spine and Sports Surgery? Call our office today at 516-289-9300.