Your Guide to Spinal Stenosis

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One of the main reasons back pain sufferers experience chronic and worsening pain is that there are so many back ailments and require an accurate diagnosis for effective treatment. In fact many symptoms of back pain are present across different ailments, making self-diagnosis not just impossible but ill-advised.

Spinal stenosis symptoms for example, may trick you into thinking it’s just a pinched nerve or sciatica when the truth is a little more complicated. A better understanding of spinal stenosis can help you work with your physician to determine the best course of treatment.

What Is Spinal Stenosis?

The simple explanation of spinal stenosis is that over time the spaces between the vertebrae, known as the spinal canal, start to narrow eventually putting pressure on the spinal cord as well as nerves throughout the spine. It is highly unusual for the stenosis (narrowing) to occur throughout the entire spinal canal at once, it is far more likely to occur in one of three areas:

  1. The canal at the center of the spinal column where the nerve roots and spinal cord run.
  2. Vertebral openings where nerves leave the spine for other parts of the body.
  3. Spinal canals at the base of the nerves as they branch out to other body parts.

In addition to the narrowing presenting in different sections of the spine, it may affect only the neck, known as cervical spinal stenosis or the lower back, lumbar spinal stenosis. In rare cases the upper back but not the neck is affected; this is known as thoracic spinal stenosis.

The symptoms of each are the same, but where the pain manifests differs.

Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis

It is estimated that at some point in time approximately three-fourths of all people will experience some form of back pain. This can be acute or chronic back pain, with dozens of different causes. The problem with treating back pain is that most patients assume it is generic pain caused by sitting too long or carrying too much weight.

The symptoms of spinal stenosis will worsen over time if left undiagnosed and untreated. More often than not these symptoms present on just one side of the body in the back region, but often symptoms present in both legs. This should be your first clue that your pain is more than everyday back pain.

The most common symptoms of spinal stenosis are:

If your pain presents with any of these other symptoms, see your back pain specialist right away.

Can You Prevent Spinal Stenosis?

Since two of the major causes of spinal stenosis are age and wear and tear, flat out prevention is next to impossible. However there are things that can be done to reduce the risk of spinal stenosis. These are mostly lifestyle changes that help remove you from risk categories.

Exercise is a great preventative tool for spinal stenosis because it solves several risk problems including poor posture and weight loss. Poor posture places far too much pressure on the spine, increasing risk of injury. An exercise such as running can help get rid of excess weight while also improving posture and increasing strength.

Exercise also improves balance, which can help reduce injury due to falling.

Healthy Diets are not just a great way to maintain a healthy weight, but they also provide the body with essential vitamins and minerals that keep bones strong and healthy. Moderate alcohol consumption is part of a healthy diet as well.

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While it may not be possible to prevent spinal stenosis altogether, a healthy and active lifestyle can reduce the risk. As we age some deterioration is expected, but how the body has been treated in youth may determine how well it ages.

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