Spinal stenosis is a condition that typically develops very slowly as we get older, usually occurring after the age of 50. There are cases, however, where curvature of the spine (scoliosis) or congenital factors may lead to spinal stenosis in younger individuals.Spinal stenosis occurs with the gradual aging of the structures of the spine, leading to narrowing of the spinal column.
The majority of cases of spinal stenosis occur in the lower or lumbar spine. Slippage and misalignment of the vertebrae, known as spondylolisthesis, can also be a cause of spinal stenosis. The most common symptom of spinal stenosis is cramping or aching in the calves. As the condition advances, it becomes increasingly difficult to stand and walk due to the intensity of the resulting leg pain.
Why Spinal Stenosis Develops
Spinal stenosis is caused by the degeneration of bony and soft tissue structures that form and support the spinal column, including the discs, ligaments, and facet joints. These structures bear our weight and the stress of daily activities such as, twisting, lifting, sitting, standing, walking, and running. As we age, any one of the structures that make up our spinal column will be impacted by these daily stresses. For example, discs may bulge, ligaments may thicken, and facet joints may enlarge and develop growths called bone spurs. When these changes occur, they cause pressure on the spinal nerves, resulting in inflammation and swelling.
Recognizing the Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis
The symptoms experienced from spinal stenosis vary depending on where the compression is located. The most common include:
• Cramping or aching in the calves that impairs walking and is often confused with a circulation problem
• Tingling, numbness, or pain that radiates from the low back into the buttocks and legs
• Neck or low back pain
• Pain, numbness, tingling, or cramping in the arms
• Weakness in the arms or legs
The degree of symptoms can range from mild to severe with potentially debilitating effects. You may be comfortable sitting, but feel pain when standing. In general, pain is worse with backward bending of the spine and relieved by bending forward, such as leaning on a shopping cart.
If you are suffering from spinal stenosis, the Suburban Pain Care Center has therapies that will help to get you back to living the life you want to live.