Spinal stenosis is a common cause of low back pain, although it can occur in both the cervical (upper) and lumbar spine. The vertebrae are bones that connect with ligaments and tendons to form a canal to protect your spinal cord. The individual vertebrae create natural curvature in your spine at the neck, in the thoracic area, and in the lower, or lumbar spine. The base of the spine is formed of fused vertebrae and comprises the sacrum and coccyx. The spinal cord runs through the spinal canal and at each segment of the spinal column, nerves exit through openings between the vertebrae to travel to the peripheral parts of your body to carry signals that enable you to feel different sensations and control your movement.
Aging is frequently accompanied by changes in the bony structures of your spinal column, the result of wear and tear. One type of change is a narrowing of the spinal canal, known as spinal stenosis. This results in pressure on the both the spinal cord and the nerve roots that exit from the spinal cord and travel to other areas of your body. By the time you are 50 years old, you will probably have degenerative changes in the spinal column. Spinal stenosis is a condition that tends to occur in people over the age of 60. As you age and lose cartilage, your vertebral bones may rub together, and your body responds by growing new bone for support of the vertebrae. This may overgrow the spinal canal over time. The ligaments that support the spinal column may also increase in size, and this can contribute to narrowing of the spinal canal.
The types of pain that result from spinal stenosis are a result of nerve impingement. This can cause numbness, tingling, or burning pain. Weakness can occur when the condition is severe, sometimes resulting in a “foot drop.” Because of the mechanics of movement of the vertebrae, the pain of spinal stenosis may decrease if you lean forward while sitting, as this increases the space in the spinal canal. Walking or standing straight may result in weakness in the lower extremities or in sciatica, which is pain in the buttocks and legs resulting from impingement on the nerves that travel to those parts of the body from the lower spinal cord. In some cases, sexual dysfunction may result, or problems with bowel or bladder control.
Nonsurgical treatment may be helpful through physical therapy programs designed to teach patients with spinal stenosis to move in ways that put less pressure on the spinal nerves and spinal cord. Epidural injections of corticosteroids may alleviate pain. You doctor may also recommend surgery. It is important to call a specialist in pain management to assess the reason for any back pain you are experiencing and to begin a course of treatment. Back pain is debilitating in many instances, and degenerative disease is progressive, so early treatment will offer the best opportunity for improved quality of life. We offer weekday and weekend appointments. You can find us at our conveniently located clinics in West Orange, Aberdeen, and Lyndhurst.