What is Spinal Stenosis?

Spinal Stenosis is a condition that involves the narrowing of your spinal canal. The foramina or body openings within your spine started to narrow and there is a reduction of spaces for the nerves. And, this adds pressure to the nerves, thus causing pain and other issues.  It mostly occurs in individuals 50 years old and above. Also, it occurs more often within the lower back and neck.

Main Types of Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis can be classified according to where it occurs. Among these types are:

  • Cervical Stenosis – the narrowing started within the area of the spine your neck

  • Lumbar Stenosis – among the most common type of spinal stenosis. The narrowing here happens within the area of the spine in your lower back.

What are the Symptoms?

Although there are conditions which show the presence of spinal stenosis through MRI or CT scan, they may have no symptoms. But, when these symptoms occur, it may worsen over time. The symptoms may vary depending on where it occurs and the nerves that are affected.

If it occurs in your cervical spine or neck, the most common symptoms are:

  • Presence of numbness or tingling sensation within the arm, hand, foot, and leg

  • Your hand, arm, foot, or leg may become weak

  • You may have difficulty walking or finding balance

  • Having a neck pain

  • If the condition gets severe it may lead to bowel or bladder dysfunction

If it started in your lumbar spine or lower back, you may experience the following:

  • Numbness also or tingling sensation within your foot or leg.

  • Your foot or leg may become weak

  • You may experience pain or having cramps on a leg each time you stand for long periods of time. This may ease as soon as you bend your leg forward or just sit

  • Presence of back pain

  • The severe condition may lead to paralysis

Take in mind that symptoms may vary on each individual. But, when these symptoms occur it may affect the daily activities.

What are the Causes?

Spinal stenosis may occur due to the following:

  • Age-related changes in the bone and other spinal tissues – This is the main cause of spinal stenosis, where there is changes in the bone and spinal tissues when you reach the age of 50. But, this condition may also occur earlier especially for those people who have a spinal injury or due to genetic issues such as being born with the already narrow spinal canal.

  • Spinal Osteoarthritis – The bones started to rub against each other as a cause of having your smooth cartilage which covers the facet joints to break down. This may then lead to abnormal growth of the bone or also called osteophytes or bone spurs. With the abnormal bone growth and it can add to the narrowing of the foramina.

  • Tumours – These may form inside the spinal cord, within the membranes or within the spaces of the spinal cord and vertebrae. These abnormal growths are usually can be identified through MRI or CT scan.

  • Degenerative disc disease –  The disc bulge can contribute to pushing the spinal canal. Also, as the disc started to lose hydration and flattens it may cause the intervertebral foramina to narrow.  The disc degeneration may also add more pressure to the facet joints.

  • Thickening of the ligaments –  The ligaments within the spinal canal may thicken or turn into bony tissue which can bulge in the spinal canal.

  • Spinal Injuries –  Among the common causes of spinal stenosis. Injuries caused by accident such as car accidents cause dislocation or fractures within one or more vertebrae. And, these may cause damages to the spinal canal.

How Physiotherapy Can Help Individuals with Spinal Stenosis

Treating spinal stenosis can range from non-surgical treatments or conservative treatment, injections of corticosteroids and surgery. And among the primary recommended treatment is Physiotherapy.

Physiotherapy is the foundation for non-surgical treatment. It has been featured as an effective treatment for lumbar spinal stenosis. It’s a primary treatment for spinal stenosis. It involves a guided physical therapy programs that aim in strengthening the abdominal and back muscles. This program also involves exercises to improve overall fitness and mobility. These may include stretching, strengthening and other aerobic activities.

Take in mind that Physiotherapy is the recommended treatment for mild to moderate cases.

Among the core benefits of physiotherapy and exercise with spinal stenosis are the following:

  • It can provide relief to pain associated with this condition.

  • Reducing the pain in the soft tissues such as in ligaments, tendons, and muscles

  • Helps in restoring the function of the lumbar and cervical spine

  • Improving mobility especially in the lower body

  • Can prevent recurrence of pain

  • Providing support to the recovery

The physical therapy program aims to reduce pain while gradually returning to normal activities.

Among the techniques involve in physiotherapy may include:

  • Manual therapy or hands-on therapy which includes massage, this can help in improving the mobility of stiff joints.

  • Use of gentle movements which can help in taking the pressure off the nerve roots

  • Strengthening exercises to improve the abdomen and back muscles to provide support to your spinal joints. It can also help in strengthening your arm and leg muscles to help in taking the workload off your spinal joints

  • Aerobic exercises to aid in increasing tolerance to handle activities that are affected by this condition

  • Stretching to lessen the stress on the joints and improve the mobility of your joints, muscles of spine and extremities

  • Use of rehabilitation equipment that can help in reducing pressure on the spinal nerves

  • Education to guide you and help you with your posture especially when you stand, walk or sit

There are various types of exercises that can help in strengthening your core and can prevent the progression of this condition. Among these exercises involves such as back flexion, cat/cow pose, curl-ups, abdominal workout and etc. It is vital that before doing any type of exercises, you must ask for your doctor’s approval.

Also, always remember that Physiotherapy is recommended for mild to moderate cases. Severe cases may need to undergo surgery or will depend on your doctor’s advice.