Identifying Spinal Stenosis Symptoms<br />right381635The various spinal stenosis symptoms that an individual may experience are largely dependent on the location of the degenerative spine condition within the spinal column. A pinched nerve in the neck, for example, may cause symptoms in the upper body; nerve compression in the lower back can be expected to cause symptoms in the lower body. The bigger challenge when it comes to identifying spinal stenosis symptoms is correctly diagnosing the cause of the condition, as this information is vital for developing a comprehensive treatment plan.<br />What is Spinal Stenosis?<br />Spinal stenosis is a degenerative spine condition that describes the gradual narrowing of the spinal canal – the area within the spinal column that houses the spinal cord and a variety of other essential nerves. This condition normally develops slowly and is a result of the natural spinal deterioration that frequently accompanies the natural aging process. So what causes the spinal canal to become constricted?<br />Quite often, the onset of spinal stenosis isn’t caused by one single factor, but instead develops as a result of the overall deterioration of the spinal column. In a healthy spine, the spinal cord travels from the base of the brain to the lower back through the spinal canal, an area within the vertebrae that acts like a sheath for the central nervous system. In order to provide the full range of motion that we require from the back and neck, each vertebra is connected by vertebral facet joints and separated by soft, spongy intervertebral discs. The spinal column is further supported by a variety of different muscle groups, ligaments, and soft tissue. <br />As the individual ages, these anatomical components that support much of the body’s weight and allow for mobility are subject to wear and tear. Eventually, the intervertebral discs can swell or rupture beyond their normal parameter between the vertebrae, the facet joints can become arthritic, bone spurs may develop, ligaments calcify, muscles atrophy, the vertebrae become misaligned, and other changes occur. This deterioration is largely normal and entirely unavoidable, and most importantly, is mostly asymptomatic – at least in the early stages. Spinal stenosis symptoms develop when any of these degenerative spine conditions extend into the spinal canal and compress the nerves housed within the canal.<br />The Specific Symptoms Associated with Nerve Compression<br />The most common spinal stenosis symptoms are a direct result of the presence of a compressed nerve. Having a narrowed spinal canal in and of itself is typically asymptomatic. Problems arise when this narrowed canal results in the constriction of the nerves housed within the canal. Similarly, treatment for the various symptoms associated with this condition is focused on alleviating pressure on the nerves and subsequently alleviating the resulting pain.<br />The symptoms of nerve compression vary from patient to patient in both their severity and the type of symptom experienced. It’s no surprise that the most common symptom associated with spinal stenosis is localized back or neck pain near the area of the problematic nerve compression, however this is only one example. Other symptoms frequently experienced as a result of stenosis include:<br />
A feeling of pins-and-needles or heat
The Location of Symptoms<br />left3343275Perhaps the most difficult component of diagnosing any degenerative spine condition is that symptoms can often be experienced in an area of the body seemingly far removed from the nerve compression. The specific symptoms that a person with spinal stenosis may develop depend on the location of the nerve irritation. Without question, this condition is most common in the lumbar region of the spine in the lower back where the spinal column is tasked with supporting much of the body’s weight while also remaining highly flexible. That being said, spinal stenosis can develop anywhere along the spinal column and lead to symptoms throughout the body based on the particular nerve affected.<br />
Cervical spine (neck) – symptoms in the neck, shoulders, arms, elbows, hands, fingers, and upper body; a common area for stenosis to develop because of the burden placed on the neck by the weight of the cranium.
Thoracic spine (back) – symptoms in the middle back, ribcage, internal organs, and throughout the torso; the least common area for stenosis to develop because the thoracic spine supports the ribcage and is not especially flexible.
Lumbar spine (lower back) – symptoms in the lower back, buttocks, legs, thighs, knees, calves, feet, toes and throughout the lower body; the most common area for stenosis.
Treatment Options <br />Determining the proper treatment plan for the patient’s various spinal stenosis symptoms is contingent on recognizing that spinal stenosis is to blame for the individual’s pain. All too often, an individual will waste valuable time treating the symptom, while neglecting the root cause of the symptom. In other words, the individual will attempt to manage sciatic pain in the legs while ignoring the actual cause of the sciatica – nerve compression within the lumbar spine.<br />This is why it is so essential to have a doctor diagnose any chronic symptoms and be actively involved in the entire treatment process. The wrong treatment can prove totally ineffective, or worse, exacerbate the pain.<br />Once spinal stenosis is diagnosed, in most cases, treatment begins with a series of noninvasive techniques that are designed to reduce pressure on the compressed nerve. While the treatments will vary depending on the specific cause, location and severity of the pain, some of the most commonly recommended treatments include:<br />
The use of over-the-counter pain medication or anti-inflammatories
The application of heat or ice
Low-impact exercises or physical therapy
Deep tissue massage
When Surgery is Considered<br />left4141470Occasionally, when conservative treatment proves ineffective, decompression surgery may be considered. This type of treatment is almost always reserved for patients who are experiencing debilitating symptoms and are out of other options.<br />The basic goal of spinal stenosis surgery is to remove the cause of the nerve compression from the spinal canal. Generally speaking, nerve decompression can be attempted a number of different ways, based on the patient’s prognosis. In some instances, a type of open spine surgery known as spinal fusion is warranted. During this type of surgery, the intervertebral disc is removed and replaced with a bone graft and the spine is permanently immobilized as the adjacent vertebrae slowly fuse together. This type of surgery may be recommended when spinal stability is in question or an intervertebral disc is severely herniated.<br />Alternatively, spinal stenosis symptoms can also sometimes be alleviated with an outpatient endoscopic procedure. These minimally invasive techniques are designed to carefully alleviate nerve compression by making small adjustments, such as by carefully removing herniated disc material from the spinal canal. <br />To learn more about the various spinal stenosis symptoms and your numerous treatment options, contact your doctor or a local spine specialist today.<br />