A wide range of factors can cause chronic pain conditions. Genetics, diseases, diet, accidents, and physical injuries can all increase the risk of enduring a multitude of debilitating long-term disorders that impact mobility and overall quality of life. Even those of us who manage to make it through decades without an acute, neuropathic, or chronic episode may still have to worry about age-induced pain symptoms.
Age Can Play a Significant Role in Our Physiological Health
As we get older, our risk for degenerative chronic pain conditions increases, particularly in our backs and necks. Statistics indicate that 95 percent of people will experience degenerative spinal changes by age 50. For many of us, routine wear and tear on our backs can eventually lead to narrowing of the spinal canal. This constriction of the spinal canal, a condition referred to as spinal stenosis, puts excessive pressure on the spinal cord and/or the nerves in the compressed region of the body, which often results in varying levels of pain and discomfort.
Types and Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis
The different types of spinal stenosis are classified based on the location of spinal compression. Patients can present more than one classification, depending on the range of spinal canal narrowing. The two main types of spinal stenosis are:
The most common form of spinal stenosis, lumbar stenosis, stems from narrowing of the spinal canal in a patient's lower back. Symptoms of lumbar stenosis may include:
- Numbness, tingling, and/or weakness throughout the feet or legs
- Leg cramping or pain after standing or walking for long stretches
- Back pain
This version of spinal stenosis results from the restriction of the spinal canal in a patient's neck. Symptoms of cervical stenosis may include:
- Numbness, tingling, and/or weakness throughout the hands, arms, legs, and feet
- Issues with walking and balance
- Neck pain
Severe cases of cervical stenosis may also be marked by bladder and/or bowel dysfunction.
Causes of Spinal Stenosis
A relatively small percentage of the population is born with various back conditions that can eventually progress into spinal stenosis, typically affecting people between the ages of 30 to 50 years old. However, congenital spinal stenosis is rare. Most often, other factors trigger the onset of this chronic pain condition as we get older:
The deterioration of the spinal bones due to osteoarthritis can lead to bone spurs. These spurs can eventually grow into the spinal canal, causing the space in the canal to narrow. Additionally, Paget disease can also instigate bone overgrowth.
Over time, the strong ligaments that hold your spinal bones together can thicken and become stiff. As these cords get wider, their mass can eventually expand into the spinal canal.
The vertebrae in our spine are cushioned by small discs that absorb shock. As we get older, the jellylike material surrounding these small, round, and flat discs can dry out, reducing their ability to serve as natural shock absorbers. Additionally, exterior vertebrae cracks can leak this inner fluid, causing pressure on the surrounding nerves and spinal cords.
Tumors forming on the inside of the spinal cord may also restrict space and movement within the canal. Although not common, if an abnormal growth is causing spinal stenosis, it can be detected and diagnosed with a CT or MRI.
Spinal injuries can also cause spinal stenosis, regardless of a patient's age or previous health profile. Spinal fractures and displaced bones can cause damage, pressure, and pain to the canal. Additionally, swelling and inflammation from surgical procedures can also cause nerve, back, or neck discomfort.
Consult with a Chronic Pain Specialist to Diagnose Spinal Stenosis
Patients experiencing lumbar or cervical discomfort often request a referral to a skilled and experienced chronic pain physician to determine if their radiating aches and numbness is related to spinal stenosis. During the diagnostic process, your clinician will discuss your medical history, ask about presenting symptoms, and perform a thorough physical examination. During the consultation, a licensed pain management practitioner may also conduct several imaging tests, such as:
X-rays are commonly used to identify bone spurs or other boney changes that may create a narrowing of the spinal canal space.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
MRIs use radio and magnetic waves to create various spinal images. An MRI can outline any potential ligament and disc damage. These highly sophisticated tests can even reveal the presence of tumors, which may also cause lumbar and cervical aches.
Computerized Tomography (CT)
For patients unable to have an MRI, chronic pain specialists may recommend computerized tomography testing. A standardized CT test combines X-ray images shot from various angles to create a comprehensive image of the afflicted region of the body. Additionally, a physician may also suggest a CT myelogram, where a contrast dye is injected into the afflicted area before performing a CT scan.
Treating Spinal Stenosis
Once you've been diagnosed with lumbar or cervical stenosis (or both), it's critical to understand available treatment and therapies to ensure you're equipped with all the information needed to choose the course of care that's right for you. Leading pain management specialists will often recommend starting with non- and minimally-invasive practices and procedures to find the least intrusive, most effective options. When consulting with your specialist, you may discuss various care strategies, such as:
• Lumbar Indirect Compression
• Mild Procedure
• Steroid Injections
More invasive procedures, such as a laminectomy, laminotomy, and laminoplasty, may also be suggested, based on the extent of a patient's loss of mobility, functionality, and quality of life.
Florida Pain Management Centers: We are Pioneers in Spinal Stenosis Therapies
If you or your patients are suffering from spinal stenosis, Florida Pain Management Centers can help. Our licensed and board-certified team of renowned clinicians are innovators of spinal stenosis care and therapies. Florida Pain Management Centers has even performs the mild procedure, a minimally invasive decompression process that alleviates the underlying cause of LSS symptoms. Contact us to coordinate a patient referral today.