Pain or Weakness in Your Neck or Lower Back Can Be a Sign of Spinal Stenosis, a Common Condition in People Over 50
Do you often feel pain, stiffness, numbness, or weakness? Does it hurt in your neck, lower back, or leg? The problem may be in your spine. Spinal stenosis affects about three million Americans.
This guide covers the many aspects of spinal stenosis. First, you will learn the basics about the condition. Next, you’ll learn about different types of spinal stenosis. After that, you’ll dig into symptoms and causes. Finally, you will read about diagnosis and treatment. We hope this guide helps you take the next step to a healthier life.
What Is Spinal Stenosis?
The word “stenosis” refers to narrowing in the body. Spinal stenosis is the narrowing in the bony spinal canal in the neck and in nerve roots in the lower back.
Think of your spinal canal as a superhighway for your nerves. The nerves in your spinal canal carry messages from your brain to the rest of your body. Narrowing this highway therefore causes pain and other discomfort. You may get a tingling feeling or numbness in your arms or legs, for example.
Spinal stenosis is a progressive condition. In other words, it usually gets worse. There is no cure, but treatment makes a big difference. That’s a good reason to get help right away.
What Are the Types of Spinal Stenosis?
There are two main types of spinal stenosis. Each type is based on where the narrowing occurs.
Lumbar spinal stenosis affects the lower back. The lower back is also called the lumbar spine. Cervical spinal stenosis affects the upper part of the spine, in your neck. This the cervical spine.
Cervical Spinal Stenosis
Cervical stenosis is more serious than lumbar spinal stenosis. That’s because the spinal cord, rather than the nerve roots, is squeezed. Pain and other symptoms are felt in the neck, arms, and upper back.
Cervical spinal stenosis can cause severe weakness or even paralysis. Paralysis is a medical emergency; therefore, you should get medical help if this happens.
What Are the Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis?
Spinal stenosis symptoms can vary widely. These are common signs:
- A radiating feeling of numbness or tingling down the back and leg
- A burning sensation in the arms
- A cold or hot feeling
- A “pins-and-needles” sensation
Symptoms develop slowly over the years. Your pain and other symptoms are also likely to come and go, rather than remain the same.
Lumbar Spinal Stenosis Symptoms
Sciatica is a common symptom of lumbar spinal stenosis. Sciatica causes shooting pain, tingling, numbness, and weakness. The symptoms often start in the lower back. Next, they move into the buttocks and thigh. Your lower leg and foot are another area that may be in pain as a result.
Sciatica usually affects only one leg. The pain is usually worse when walking.
Other symptoms include:
- Cramping in the feet, legs, or thigh
- Leg or foot weakness
- Bladder or bowel difficulties
- Problems in sexual functioning
Certain activities often trigger pain. Walking for even a short distance, for example, could be a challenge. What makes things better? Shifting your position. For instance, lying down for a while may help. Leaning forward, as on a grocery cart, also may ease the pain.
Cervical Spinal Stenosis Symptoms
Symptoms of cervical spinal stenosis are usually in the upper part of the body. The neck, arms, or hands are most affected, for example.
Here are the common symptoms of cervical spinal stenosis:
- A feeling of heaviness, tiredness, burning, or numbness
- Arm, neck, or shoulder pain
- Problems doing small tasks, such as buttoning a shirt
- Electric shock-type pain in the arms or the trunk
- Falling down or feeling clumsy
Cervical spinal stenosis can also cause incontinence and other bladder and urination problems.
What Causes Spinal Stenosis?
have the condition. Arthritis is often a major factor. It also causes wear-and-tear changes in the spinal bones.
Age-related causes of spinal stenosis include:
- Thickening of the ligaments that connect bones in the spine
- Small growths called bone spurs pushing into the spinal canal
- Breakdown of the cushioning discs between each vertebra
- Irritation of nerves because of liquid leaking from a nearby herniated disc
- Deterioration of other bones in the spine
Age is not always the cause, however. Some people are born with a narrow spinal canal. A traumatic injury, such as a car accident, may also damage the spine. Similarly, an infection or a tumor may be to blame.
How Is Spinal Stenosis Diagnosed
You can expect a thorough exam when you seek treatment. First, you’ll answer questions about your health history. Other questions are also likely, such as:
- What are your symptoms?
- When did the symptoms start?
- Where is the pain?
- What makes you feel worse?
- What makes you feel better?
The physical exam will show where movement is restricted in the spine or neck. Your leg and arm strength will be tested, for instance. You may also be asked to walk several steps or bend over. Tests of your reflexes can show whether you have a neurological problem.
Noninvasive diagnostic tests provide further information:
- X-rays reveal the alignment of the spine as well as show the joints.
- CT scans combine multiple X-rays. This offers a more detailed view. It shows the shape and size of the spinal canal and the bones surrounding it.
- An MRI offers an in-depth look at the body. The spinal cord and nerve roots are a likely target. The surrounding area is also displayed. MRIs offer another benefit. They highlight an enlarged or damaged part of the body.
Sometimes the test results are not clear. The doctor may then order another test.
What Is the Treatment for Spinal Stenosis?
Spinal stenosis treatment focuses on managing the condition above all. Helping you be as active as possible is therefore a major goal. You can choose between chiropractic care and medical care. Each model of care has a different approach.
The Chiropractic Model for Spinal Stenosis Treatment
Chiropractic care promotes natural healing. Therefore, noninvasive, drug-free methods are emphasized. Algonquin Chiropractic Center offers multiple techniques to provide long-term relief. We also tailor a coordinated program of home exercise, diet, and nutrition.
These approaches may be used alone or combined as needed:
- The Cox Technic, a gentle adjustment procedure
- Whole body standing vibration
- Spinal manipulation
- Physical therapy
- Massage therapy
- Laser therapy
- Spinal bracing or use of a walker
- Orthotics to provide support
Chiropractic providers also work closely with other specialists when needed. These may include radiologists, orthopedic surgeons, neurologists, and pain management doctors.
The Medical Model for Relieving Spinal Stenosis Symptoms
Typical medical treatments focus more on medicines. The doctor may prescribe pain relief medication, including opioids, for instance. Muscle relaxants and anti-seizure medicine may also be prescribed to treat symptoms. Corticosteroid injections are sometimes recommended.
The risks of opioid addiction are well known. Many of the other medications also have unpleasant side effects. Focusing on medicine has a major drawback. Medicines cover the pain, but do not get at the root of the problem. As a result, your health may get worse.
Any surgery brings a risk of bleeding, infection, and complications with anesthesia. Spinal stenosis has special risks, however. These risks are:
- Damage to sensitive nerves
- Harm to tissues
- Chronic pain
- Difficulty urinating
Can Exercise Help with Spinal Stenosis?
We’ve all heard the term “move it or lose it.” Following this advice is vital if you have spinal stenosis. Inactivity can reduce your strength and flexibility. As a result, it will become harder to get around and enjoy life.
Benefits of exercise include:
- Keeping muscles from tightening, which could worsen symptoms
- Increased blood flow, bringing nutrients and oxygen to the area
- Helping you stay a healthy weight, putting less pressure on the back and legs
Stretching and strength exercises are good options. Tai chi, swimming, and other types of water exercises are helpful, for example. They avoid jarring movements that may cause pain. You can do some exercises from a chair if standing is painful.
Exercise is a key part of both medical and chiropractic care. A physical therapist may design the best exercises for you. Consider changing your routine if a once-favorite exercise hurts you. Riding a bike may be more comfortable than walking, for instance.
How Algonquin Orthopedic Can Help
Do the spinal stenosis symptoms on this page sound familiar? It’s time to see the experienced spine specialists at Algonquin Chiropractic in Algonquin, IL. We will evaluate your situation and develop a plan to get you back on the right track. Call for an appointment today at 847-854-2000 and put the pain behind you.
How Can You Prevent the Disorder?
By making good lifestyle choices right now, you can prevent PN before it starts. These choices should include eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, avoiding excessive alcohol consumption, and not smoking. You should also take good care of your hands and feet and avoid letting injuries go untreated.
You should also be aware of drugs that can cause peripheral neuropathy. These include anti-alcohol drugs, cancer medications, and heart or blood pressure drugs. If you are taking drugs that you think may be exaggerating your PN, then you should talk with your doctor about discontinuing or reducing the dosage.