Your body undergoes many changes as you get older. Though it’s difficult to miss the visible changes that occur with each passing year, you may not be aware of the degenerative changes happening to your spine until you start to experience neck or back pain.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, degenerative changes in the spine are present in up to 95% of people by the time they reach age 50. While spinal stenosis can occur at any age, it’s most often diagnosed in those age 60 and older.
At Orthopedic & Wellness in Frederick, Waldorf, and Germantown, Maryland, our pain management and orthopedic specialists, Dr. Ojedapo Ojeyemi and Dr. Matthew Roh, want you to know more about spinal stenosis, including how it develops, the types of symptoms you may experience, and your treatment options.
Losing space with spinal stenosis
Your backbone is made up of a series of small bones, called vertebrae, that are stacked one on top of another. These bones are each separated by an intervertebral disc and connected by strong ligaments that keep the bones in their proper position.
In addition to supporting the weight of your upper body and allowing you to bend and twist, your backbone is designed to protect your spinal cord. An important part of your central nervous system, your spinal cord is responsible for relaying messages between your brain and body through nerve branches that exit the narrow openings in between the vertebrae of your backbone.
Spinal stenosis refers to a narrowing of the space around your spinal cord, which places pressure on the spinal canal and the nerve branches that exit through the spaces in your vertebrae. Though you may be born with a narrow spinal canal, the loss of space most often results from the normal wear-and-tear that occurs with aging.
The degenerative changes that most often lead to spinal stenosis include:
- Loss of cartilage (osteoarthritis)
- Bone spurs
- Herniated discs
- Thickening of your backbone ligaments
You can develop spinal stenosis in any part of your spine, but it most often occurs in the lumbar (lower back) and cervical (neck) spine.
Symptoms of spinal stenosis
Not everyone with spinal stenosis experiences symptoms. However, when symptoms do occur, they generally get worse over time. The types of symptoms you experience may depend on the area of your spine affected by the narrowing.
With cervical spinal stenosis, you might experience:
- Neck pain
- Tingling or numbness that travels to your arms or legs
- Muscle weakness in your arms or legs
- Difficulty walking
- Issues with balance
With lumbar spinal stenosis, you may encounter:
- Back pain
- Burning, numbness, or tingling in your buttocks or leg
- Weakness in your leg muscles
- Foot drop
- Leg pain when walking or standing that improves when leaning forward
Lumbar spinal stenosis is more common than cervical spinal stenosis and may be the underlying cause of sciatica, which is a common pain condition that develops from compression of your sciatic nerve.
Relieving your spinal stenosis symptoms
For treatment of your spinal stenosis, our pain management and orthopedic specialists focus on alleviating your pain and keeping you active. We find that many people benefit from nonsurgical treatments, such as anti-inflammatory medication, physical therapy, and steroid injections.
However, if your spinal stenosis is severe and makes it difficult for you to manage your daily tasks without pain, we may recommend a decompression laminectomy, a surgical procedure that relieves pressure on your spinal canal and nerves. To provide stability, we may combine your laminectomy with a spinal fusion.
Spinal stenosis is a common and progressive cause of neck and back pain, but we can treat it to help you maintain the best quality of life possible. Schedule a consultation to learn more about our treatment options: Contact us by phone or online today.