Spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the spaces between the vertebrae. The comprehensive orthopedic spine team at Iowa’s only nationally ranked orthopedics program offer treatments and therapies to help treat spinal stenosis.
Your spinal cord is made up of nerves that branch out to all parts of your body. Your spine protects your spinal cord. The spine is made up of a line of bones called vertebrae. A healthy spine has enough space for the nerves it protects.
Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of those spaces. This typically takes place in any of three areas:
- The column in the spine that contains the spinal cord
- Openings in the vertebrae where nerves branch out from the spinal cord
- Gaps between the vertebrae
When those spaces become narrower, they can put pressure on the spinal cord and nerves.
Symptoms of spinal stenosis often come on slowly and then grow worse over time. Common symptoms include:
- Neck or back pain
- Numbness, tingling, weakness, or pain in your arms or legs
- Pain or cramping in your legs when walking or standing for long periods of time
- Foot problems
In some severe cases, spinal stenosis affects control of bowel, bladder, and sexual functions.
Causes and risk factors
Spinal stenosis usually affects people over age 50. Causes include:
- Herniated discs
- Spinal tumors
- Spinal cord injury
- Thickened ligaments that bulge into the spinal canal
- Bone spurs created by wear and tear on the spine
Younger people who were born with a small spinal canal or have had an injury to their spine may also be at risk for spinal stenosis.
The treatment your doctor recommends for spinal stenosis will depend on how bad your symptoms are.
Your doctor may prescribe medications such as NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), muscle relaxants, and antidepressants to help control pain.
Steroid injections may be an option. When pinched nerve roots become irritated and swollen because of spinal stenosis, steroid injections can temporarily reduce the inflammation and relieve the pressure.
Physical therapists can teach you exercises to help maintain the flexibility and stability of your spine and bolster your strength and endurance.
Surgery is generally the best option for spinal stenosis treatment when large bone spurs are blocking the spinal canal. This can help relieve the pressure on the spinal cord or the nerves by making more space for them.