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Spinal Stenosis: Signs and Symptoms

Is there a way to tell if I am developing spinal stenosis?

If you haven’t reached the period in life where the first thing you are asked when you mention an ache or a pain is “how old are you, now?”, then just wait for it. If you are fortunate enough to live into your 60’s and beyond, you have this to look forward to. Unfortunately, as annoying as the question may be, there is often a legitimate reason for the asking. Many of the issues that start popping up with somewhat distressing regularity are age-related. Spinal stenosis falls into that category. 

Spinal stenosis is the condition that results when space around the spinal nerves starts to narrow, creating pressure on the nerves. There are two types, based on the location in the spine of the narrowing. Cervical stenosis occurs in the neck region, and lumbar stenosis, which is the most common, occurs in the lower back. 

Most often, spinal stenosis is caused by osteoarthritis, also known as the “wear and tear” form of arthritis. Even though many do not notice symptoms right away, osteoarthritis begins its deterioration of the cartilage in the joints, including those in the spine, around the age of 50. However, osteoarthritis is not the only cause of spinal stenosis. Rheumatoid arthritis can also contribute to the development of spinal stenosis, as can injuries to the spine, tumors, surgery and bone disease.

Signs and Symptoms Associated with Spinal Stenosis

Whether due to aging and osteoarthritis or another cause, when the joints associated with the vertebrae start to deteriorate, they typically put pressure on the spinal nerves, leading to increasingly more severe pain, especially in the lower back. This may be particularly noticeable while walking or jogging. That said, not everyone will have experienced noticeable symptoms prior to diagnosis.

It is also essential to understand that very often spinal stenosis can be observed on MRI or suggested by XRAY, and no symptoms may arise at all.  This highlights the importance of treating the patient and not just the images!

Symptoms vary somewhat based on the location of the stenosis, but there are those that are shared. Some of the most common signs and symptoms include: 

Signs and Symptoms for Cervical Stenosis 

  • Pain felt in the neck and nearby area
  • Numbness in the hands, feet, arms or legs
  • Tingling in the hands, feet, arms or legs 
  • Weakness experienced in the extremities
  • Difficulty in trying to walk or run
  • Balance issues

Signs and Symptoms for Lumbar Stenosis 

  • Pain experienced in the back, specifically the central and lower areas
  • Tingling in the leg or foot
  • Numbness in the leg or foot
  • A feeling of weakness in the leg or foot
  • After standing or walking for extended periods of time, pain is experienced in the leg, which usually lessens after sitting down or relieved to some degree by simply bending forward to shift the pressure

There is currently no cure for spinal stenosis and, in most cases, it typically gets worse as time goes by. In particularly severe cases, spinal stenosis can lead to serious conditions, such as urinary incontinence and bowel dysfunction. The good news is that there are a variety of treatment options available that have proven successful in reducing symptoms. Based on your own individual condition and assessment, recommendations will usually include some combination of medications to reduce inflammation and relieve pain, physical therapy and steroid injections. Surgery may be required in the most extreme cases, but this increasingly rare. 

At Long Island Spine Rehabilitation Medicine, our physicians are committed to more than just treating your symptoms. We strongly believe that each individual is best served through an integrative treatment plan. We focus on finding the underlying cause and providing non-surgical, evidenced-based solutions tailored to your specific condition and needs. If you are experiencing back pain or have questions about any other condition or service, we invite you to schedule a consultation by using our convenient online form by clicking here