The ageing back – what is spinal stenosis?

Spinal stenosis is condition in which the bone channel that carries the spinal nerves narrows. In most patients it is a degenerative condition, though it can be congenital, which is why it’s most commonly found in older people – generally above the age of 60.

Most cases occur in the lumber spine, in other words the lower back. The narrowing of the spine canal can compress the nerves and the effect of this is to cause radiating pain which is generally experienced down the back of the leg.

 

Other symptoms can include:

  • Muscular weakness
  • Numbness and tingling in the legs and feet
  • Cramping in the calves – especially when it comes to walking, making long distances very difficult without stopping for breaks
  • Burning pain into the buttocks, thighs and legs (that people may mistake for sciatica)
  • Weakness in the foot resulting in ‘foot drop’ (wherein the leg muscles are so weak you cannot lift your foot, resulting in them slapping on the ground as you walk)
  • In rare cases, there may be a loss of or change in bladder and bowel function

Spinal stenosis is a slow process that develops over years, and while it is often a degenerative condition, there is a range of causes. These include:

 

Age-related degeneration – as we age, our ligaments tend to thicken and bone spurs can form on the bones, which can then protrude into the canal. The discs between the vertebrae deteriorate, thin and lose their ability to cushion, and the facet joints can also break down. Each of these processes can cause the canal to narrow.

Osteoarthritis – is a degenerative condition in which the cartilage in our joints breaks down. Cartilage is a flexible material that reduces friction between the bones that form the joint and acts as a shock absorber cushioning the joints.

Rheumatoid arthritis – is an immune response that can be triggered by a range of factors. The immune system starts to attack the joints leading to inflammation, loss of cartilage and narrowing of the canal.

Spondylolisthesis – or spinal instability can cause the vertebrae to slip, thus narrowing the canal.

Injury – the canal can be narrowed as the result of injury, for instance, the dislocation of the spine and burst fractures causing bone fragments to penetrate the canal.

 

So can anything be done?

Although it is a painful and potentially debilitating condition, spinal stenosis can be effectively managed by a combination of treatments. While surgery might be required in some instances, physical therapies can be equally effective and their benefits longer lasting

 

Find out what these are in next week’s blog! Until then, if you are suffering from back pain, please contact us at Not Just Backs on 01722 512 043 and we can help look after your back pain or help manage the discomforts associated with degeneration in the joints and spine.

  

 

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