Spinal stenosis is a common cause of chronic back pain and limitations in mobility for many people. This condition represents in two main forms, although the symptoms for both are still similar. Lumbar stenosis will result in pain and weakness in the lower back and legs, while cervical stenosis impacts the neck and shoulders with impaired flexibility and severe discomfort.
The term stenosis essentially refers to some form of constriction that is happening in the body. In either case of spinal stenosis, compression of the upper or lower vertebrae is impinging upon the nerve roots that radiate from those points. Thus, the pain that is associated with the condition can be as much a result of the structural deterioration as it is of the pinched nerve.
Differences in Location and Differences in Effects
Lumbar stenosis tends to be most common within the population, and this is widely exacerbated by modern lifestyle choices. Long hours of sitting at a desk and lack of physical activity can contribute to this compression of the lower spine. Further, the impact that sitting has on the hip flexors can also induce sciatic pain, which can cause even more swelling in the nerve root that is pinched.
As a result, the most common symptoms of lumbar stenosis include:
- Lower back and hamstring pain
- Weakness in the legs and hips
- Tingling or numbness that radiates from the lower back down the legs
Cervical stenosis is less common, but can also be more serious, as it represents a compression of major nerve roots in the spinal cord. The stricture on the nerves can result from similar lifestyle habits that produce lumbar stenosis, but the impact of the compression has greater ramifications.
The most common symptoms of cervical stenosis include:
- Inability to move the head
- Weakness in the arms and shoulders
- Severe radiating pain throughout the upper torso
- Full body weakness
- Possible paralysis
Although postural conditions can contribute to the spinal compression that leads to stenosis, other factors, including accidental injury, can also lead to the condition. These include:
- Age – natural degeneration of the musculoskeletal system can lead to either lumbar or cervical compression from bone loss and joint diseases.
- Arthritis – as arthritis impacts all the joints in the body, it can also lead to swelling in compression along the spine. This can be both a cause and a contributing factor in pain from spinal stenosis.
- Slipped discs – any change in the alignment of the spine can lead to constriction of nerve roots. Slipped discs can directly impinge upon the nerves, but can also cause the canal for the spinal cord to become narrow and tortuous.
- Tumors and ganglions – some people have a genetic predisposition to abnormal tumors that may still be benign. However, when these growths happen along the spine, they can alter alignment and pose an impediment on the nerves.
- Trauma – accidents can be one of the biggest causes of either cervical or lumbar stenosis. Injury to the bones and ligaments can lead to scar tissue that presses on the nerve endings. However, trauma can also include emotional factors, as stress can cause prolonged stricture in the body, which can also lead to cervical or lumbar stenosis.
Although it may seem as though many of the causes of spinal stenosis are factors that are beyond a person’s control, there are still measures that may be taken to reduce the risk for the condition.
Proactive Measures to Reduce Risk of Spinal Stenosis
- Attention to safety – although not all accidents can be avoided, many of the traumas that can lead to spinal stenosis can be prevented. This includes avoiding activities that will put undue stress on the spine, especially impacts to the lower back of neck and shoulder areas.
- Practice spinal health – this includes exercises that are specifically designed to improve spinal flexibility and muscle strength, as well as improve circulation around the spine to encourage the proper production of cartilage and synovial fluids.
- Supplement your joints – the spine is essential one giant series of joints, so taking vitamins and supplements that support this health can also prevent degeneration and compression. This can include compounds that include vitamin E, MSM, and glucosamine-chondroitin.
- Change your posture – simply standing up, stretching, and moving around at intervals throughout the day can also help prevent spinal stenosis. This is not only because this activity encourages decompression of the spine through shifting weight, but also because it can increase circulation and flexibility.
- Manage your stress – emotional reactions can manifest as severe tension in the body. By releasing stress, you can also release the tension this puts on your spine, and further reduce the risk of possible compression.
- Get plenty of rest – lying prone allows the spine to readjust and also takes the pressure of gravity off the vertical plane. However, the relaxation that occurs during sleep furthers this effect, while physiological regeneration is also stronger during resting hours.
- Invest in ergonomic furniture – in many cases, the extra support and core strengthening benefits that different chairs have to offer can also reduce the likelihood of spinal stenosis. This is due to the manner in which weight is displaced more evenly in the body, thus reducing the impact of pressure on the upper and lower spine.
Verifying the Condition
As some of the symptoms of both cervical and lumbar stenosis can be associated with other conditions such as polymyalgia, multiple sclerosis, and Parson-Turner’s Syndrome, seeking an appropriate diagnosis for the pain can also inform individuals as to steps they may take to lessen the impact. While blood panels may be run in order to rule out other conditions, an MRI can definitively show where there is compression along the spine and how the nerves are being impinged.
With lumbar stenosis, conditions which are diagnosed early may be managed through physical therapy and some medications. In these cases, preventive measures may also be employed to reduce the progression of the condition and even facilitate possible healing. Since the compression from cervical stenosis can have a greater impact on health outcomes, these cases should seek advice from a physician as to the best way to treat the condition.