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Narrowing Down Spinal Stenosis

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Your research of possible back pain causes may lead you to the condition “spinal stenosis.” Yes, it is a well known condition that affects 47% of individuals above the age of 60 years. But it can also put the squeeze on younger people.

Spinal stenosis affects up to 14% of indi­vi­duals between the ages of 40–60 years. If related to deformities of the spine at birth, an individual could suffer from this condition even in childhood.

What is Spinal Stenosis?

Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the bony spinal openings, causing the spine or its nerves to compress. The compression (stenosis) can occur in the spinal canal where the spinal cord runs. Or it could occur in intervertebral foramina, through which spinal innervation leads to muscles and organs of the body.

Symptoms vary according to the degree and the level of compression. Most commonly, stenosis occurs in the cervical or lumbar spine. These are the neck and the lower back regions. But as the nerves that come out of these regions travel throughout the body, the symptoms may appear at distant sites.

Variable signs and symptoms of spinal stenosis may include:

  • Pain – Characteristics of pain differ among individuals. Some may find a dull or an electric-like pain while others may feel more like a pins-and-needles sensation. The pain is mostly radiating to distant sites depending on the level of spine affected. If the cervical spine is affected the pain may start at the neck and radiate to the hands. When the lumbar spine is affected the pain may arise in the lower back and extend to the legs.
  • Numbness – While pain is common, some indivi­duals may also feel numbness in the affected area and distant sites.
  • Weakness – Due to the affect on the spinal cord and nerves the muscles may weaken in the long term. Therefore, reduced strength and coordination can also be symptoms of this condition. If the lowest part of the spinal cord is affected, it may even lead to incontinence.
Most commonly, the symptoms are present on both sides but often weakness affects each side differently.
One important sign is that many individuals with spinal stenosis find it easier to walk upstairs than walking downstairs. This is because the back is forward flexed when climbing up relieving the spinal compression.

If you, or an individual you know, suffers from any of the symptoms listed above, seek medical help. Trying to treat spinal stenosis by yourself can worsen the condition. Keep in mind that standing or sitting for long periods worsens the pain. Make sure you take regular breaks from your constant posture and mobilize your spine to prevent worsening of the condition.

Physiotherapy Treatment

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Physicians highly recommend special exercises that keep your lower back moving for mild and early lumbar stenosis. Physiotherapy can help in reducing the pain, strengthen­ing muscles and improving the symptoms. Physio­therapists use different approaches. Based on health factors and best outcomes, a physiotherapist creates a personalized treatment plan for each patient.

To ensure spinal mobility, physiotherapy includes supple­mental treat­ments such as water therapy, electro­therapy, manual therapy, cycling and postural exercises. Heat therapy during sessions can reduce muscle spasms and relieve pain.

Some physio­therapists suggest using acupunc­ture to help reduce pain and numbness. Other treatments are ultrasound and mega pulse.

If the symptoms are severe and have been there for a long period, pain medica­tions and surgical treat­ment might be neces­sary. At any degree of the condition, physiotherapy is a part of treatment or as a method of rehabilitation. The duration of visits depends on the severity and also on the involvement of the affected individual.

All physiotherapy treat­ments also involve patient educa­tion regarding the condition and preven­tive measures. Once the patient completes treat­ment, the physio­therapist advises that certain exercises continue. This assures an active life with the correct posture.

Back pain can be daunting and can limit your physical functions. Although we cannot stop aging and degenera­tion of the spine and bones, we can surely postpone them by living a healthy life. Do not under­estimate the importance of correct posture and active living.

To support the writing of useful articles about physiotherapy, ClinicalPosters sells human anatomy posters, scientific posters and other products online. Slide extra posters into DeuPair Frames without removing from the wall or leave an encourag­ing comment to keep the work going. Stay safe and A Bit More Healthy.

Nuwanthi Fernando, MD is a medical writer with a subspecialty in surgical gastroenterology.

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