Everyday aging can lead to more wisdom, but it can also lead to certain health conditions. When the spinal canal narrows as people age, it can lead to a condition known as spinal stenosis. The narrowing can put pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots, causing discomfort for an individual, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. Spinal stenosis can give someone pain, numbness or weakness in the back and limbs.
The most common risk factor for spinal stenosis is arthritis. Arthritis occurs when any joint in the body degenerates. With age, the spine settles, and “weight is transferred to the facet joints behind the spinal cord and the tunnels that the nerves exit through become smaller.” Arthritis will develop when there’s an increase in pressure in the facet joints and degeneration occurs. In addition to decreased space for nerves to pass through due to smaller nerve tunnels, the ligaments around the joints may grow because of arthritis and create even less space for the nerves. About three-quarters of spinal stenosis cases occur in the lower back, or lumbar, region, according to Spine Health.
A spinal stenosis patient will begin to feel symptoms once the spinal nerves are irritated due to condensed space for them to pass through. Similar to disc degenerative disease and herniated discs, spinal stenosis can cause weakness or numbness in addition to general pain, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. A patient with the condition might feel pain in the arms or legs as well as sciatica, which is pain that radiates down the leg due to pressure on a nerve root. Severe cases of the condition can diminish bladder and bowel functions and also lead to foot disorders.
A number of procedures may lead to a diagnosis of spinal stenosis, beginning with a general overview of the patient’s medical history since first experiencing symptoms of the condition. Then, a primary physician or specialist might do a basic physical exam, and check for pain and normal neurological function in the patient with a series of tests. Other tests that can determine if someone has spinal stenosis include X-rays, MRIs, CAT scans, myelogram and bone scans.
As with other spinal conditions, the first type of treatment considered is conservative, or nonsurgical, treatment. Conservative treatments for spinal stenosis include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, analgesics, corticosteroid injections, exercises, physical therapy and others. In addition, patients with spinal stenosis may also try alternative methods of treatment, such as chiropractic care or acupuncture. If a patient does not improve, then surgery might be considered. Decompressive laminectomy is the most common surgical procedure for the condition. During this procedure, the surgeon will attempt to establish more space for the nerves by removing the lamina, or roof, of at least one vertebra.