Spinal narrowing, or spinal stenosis, is a term that describes loss of space in the spinal column. In particular, spinal narrowing often results in constriction or compression of the already tight pathways that spinal nerves travel through on their way out to the body from the brain. This is why for people diagnosed with spinal narrowing, symptoms can range from mild to moderate to severe and debilitating.
However, if you do have this condition, you’re not alone. Spinal narrowing is actually extremely common, and fortunately, there are a wide range of effective treatment options. One way to better understand this condition and how to successfully find relief from symptoms, is to learn more about the many reasons this condition is so common. Take a some time to read the following informative article and please feel free to reach out with any questions or if you’d like to learn more about how the USA Spine Care Team can help.
Spinal narrowing is usually related to the natural aging process
Spinal narrowing may sound like a frightening term, but it is typically the result of natural and slowly developing changes that happen to us all as we get older. Specifically, as we age cells throughout our body basically begin to dry out. In the spine, this can cause connective tissue and the discs that cushion the vertebrae to become brittle and less flexible.
Among other effects, this can cause spinal anatomy to become compressed and narrow the pathways that spinal cord or nerves in the spine travel through. If the narrowing becomes severe enough, it can cause pain and other symptoms, usually as a result of compression of spinal nerves.
Common lifestyle factors can also contribute to spinal narrowing
While age-related degeneration is the overwhelming contributor to spinal narrowing and other conditions, many common activities and lifestyle factors increase stress on the spine. This also tends to increase the risk of spinal narrowing. For example, poor posture causes weight to be unevenly distributed across the spinal anatomy, which can make certain joints and discs wear out faster than others and narrow the spinal column.
Another major risk factor for spinal narrowing is being overweight or obese, as extra weight increases the already significant pressure on the spine. As more and more Americans have a sedentary lifestyle, it is increasing the risk of the development of spinal narrowing and other degenerative spine conditions
Spinal narrowing can develop at any level of the spine — especially the cervical spine and lumbar spine
The spinal column consists of 24 vertebrae, or 33 including the fused immobile vertebrae at the base of the spine. The 24 primary vertebrae are divided into three sections:
- Cervical spine — These are the first seven vertebrae, labeled C1-C7, that make up the upper spine in the neck.
- Thoracic spine — The middle vertebrae, labeled T1-T12, are fixed to the ribcage and therefore not very flexible.
- Lumbar spine — The bottom five vertebrae are in the lumbar section and labeled L1-L5. These are the largest vertebrae and are responsible for supporting the full weight of the upper body.
Spinal narrowing can develop at any of these levels, but are most common in the cervical spine and lumbar spine. This is because these are the most flexible, while they also have to support the most weight. Spinal narrowing in the cervical spine happens so often because these relatively delicate vertebrae must support the weight of the head while facilitating a full range of motion.
Different forms of spinal narrowing can affect the spinal cord or nerves in different ways
There are actually multiple forms of spinal narrowing or stenosis. These include spinal canal stenosis and foraminal stenosis.
Spinal canal stenosis is spinal narrowing of the central canal of the spinal column that protects the spinal cord. This canal is formed by the arches that form off of the back of each vertebral body, which together form a tunnel.
Foraminal stenosis is spinal narrowing of the small openings between vertebrae, called foramina, that serve as exits for the nerve roots as they travel from the spinal cord out to the body.
Spinal narrowing is related to a wide variety of conditions and injuries affecting the spinal column
Many patients are surprised to learn that spinal narrowing can be caused by a large number of spine conditions that are more commonly known about. Basically, as the individual spinal components break down or become injured, it can lead to displacement which is the actual source of narrowing in the spinal column.
This is how spinal narrowing can be caused by conditions including:
- Bulging discs
- Herniated discs
- Degenerative disc disease
- Spinal osteoarthritis
- Bone spurs
- Spondylolisthesis, or vertebral slippage
It’s possible to have spinal narrowing without experiencing symptoms
Spinal narrowing can happen to varying degrees and it’s possible to develop it, even in multiple places without it becoming painful. This is because displaced spinal anatomy that results in narrowing is often only noticeable if it puts pressure on the spinal cord or nerves in the spinal column. Sometimes patients will receive an incidental diagnosis of spinal narrowing when an MRI or other type of imagery is looking at a different part of the body.
Even in cases when this happens, it is still important to take spinal narrowing treatment seriously. This is because spine conditions are progressive in nature, meaning they can become worse over time without proper management.
Many patients live for years with spinal narrowing pain before receiving a diagnosis
On the other side of the equation, many people simply accept neck or back pain as a part of life. Or they go for years attributing pain from spinal narrowing as a recurring muscle strain or just a “tweak.”
It is important to see a qualified physician for a diagnosis of any neck pain, back pain or other symptoms that last for a longer than a few days and/or recur regularly. Delaying or avoiding treatment can cause your condition and accompanying symptoms to worsen, making it more difficult to find long-term relief.
Often, conservative treatments such as over-the-counter medication, physical therapy and spinal injections can be highly effective in relieving spinal narrowing symptoms. Spine surgery is typically considered only when nonsurgical therapies have been fully explored, but it can be a highly effective form of spinal narrowing treatment if other options have been exhausted.
Find the relief you deserve for spinal narrowing pain
At USA Spine Care, our team of multidisciplinary experts provides a full spectrum of treatments for patients with spinal narrowing. From conservative care such as physical therapy or injections to minimally invasive surgeries performed on an outpatient basis, we can help you develop a personalized treatment plan that is right for your needs and lifestyle. If surgery is the best option, our minimally invasive approach has many advantages over traditional open neck or back operations. This includes a reduced risk of hospital-associated infection and the potential to avoid hospital-associated costs.
For more information about our conservative treatments and minimally invasive, outpatient procedures, contact USA Spine Care today. Our caring and dedicated team can help you find out if you are a potential candidate for our state-of-the-art treatment options.