Back pain is something that most people will encounter in their lifetimes. Almost 65 million people in the United States reported experiencing some form of back pain recently, and about 16 million adults have chronic back pain that interferes with their daily activities.
While back pain can be caused by a myriad of factors, one condition tends to afflict aging adults more than any other age group—spinal stenosis. The expert team at Cerebrum MD, led by board-certified neurosurgeon Dr. Joseph Watson, is here to help you understand what causes spinal stenosis and what treatment options are available.
What is spinal stenosis?
Spinal stenosis is a degenerative condition that occurs when the space in your spinal canal narrows over time. While spinal stenosis can happen to individuals with spinal injuries or those born with a narrow spinal canal, it typically affects older individuals with an aging spine.
This is because the most common causes of spinal stenosis are age-related conditions, such as:
- Degenerative disc disease
- Spinal osteoarthritis
- Ligament ossification (thickening of the ligaments)
Spinal stenosis comes in two varieties: cervical and lumbar. Cervical stenosis affects the spinal section near your neck, whereas lumbar stenosis affects the lower back section of your spine. Lumbar stenosis is far more common and often contributes to the chronic back pain you may be experiencing.
Spinal stenosis and chronic back pain
As the space around your spinal canal begins to narrow, the discs and ligaments surrounding your spine start to encroach on your nerves. This added pressure sometimes leads to chronic back pain, ranging from moderate tingling and discomfort to severe, debilitating pain.
Additional symptoms of spinal stenosis include:
- Pain or numbing sensation radiating through your arms or legs
- Weakness in the legs
- Frequent calf cramps
- Incontinence (loss of control with bladder and bowel movements)
- Back pain that intensifies when standing up or walking but goes away when sitting down
Note that not all cases of spinal stenosis show obvious symptoms. The best way to determine if you have spinal stenosis is to come in for a visit with Dr. Watson.
When you arrive for a visit, Dr. Watson fully evaluates your symptoms, medical history, and lifestyle before developing a personalized treatment plan. He aims to treat your spinal stenosis with conservative, nonsurgical options first.
Dr. Watson may recommend one treatment method or a combination of the following:
- Physical therapy and modified exercises
- Anti-inflammatory medications or pain medications
- Epidural steroid injections
While spinal stenosis can make your day-to-day activities difficult, Dr. Watson stresses the importance of staying active. He recommends some gentle exercises and stretches to help create more space in your spinal area and alleviate the pain you’re experiencing.
If conservative methods aren’t working, then Dr. Watson may recommend surgery to open your spinal canal and take away the pressure on your nerves. This is usually achieved through lumbar decompression surgery (or laminectomy).
However, we make every effort to treat your spinal stenosis using noninvasive methods first, which works wonders for the majority of our patients! If you’re ready to free your back from the chronic pain caused by spinal stenosis, schedule an appointment at our Vienna, Virginia, office by calling 703-748-1000 today.