Spinal stenosis is a common cause of chronic back pain. With chronic back pain, patients may lose the ability to partake in the activities that they used to love.
Thankfully, there are several ways to resolve spinal stenosis pain.
What Causes Pain From Spinal Stenosis?
Not all cases of spinal stenosis cause symptoms. So, why exactly are you experiencing pain from this condition? The answer comes down to nerve compression.
Spinal stenosis develops when the open spaces in the spinal canal become narrower. This most often results from spinal degeneration due to osteoarthritis. However, it may also develop because of a herniated disc, thickened spinal ligaments, spinal fractures, or even genetic factors.
In its early stages, spinal stenosis typically doesn’t cause spinal nerve compression. However, as the condition progresses, the narrowed spinal canal may start to press on nearby nerves. When this occurs, patients tend to experience persistent back pain, along with symptoms including:
- Numbness, tingling, and/or weakness in the extremities
- Sciatica is nerve pain that radiates along the sciatic nerve
- A feeling of heaviness in the legs
- Cramping in the legs
- Worsened pain with prolonged periods of walking or standing
If you’re experiencing these symptoms with back pain that doesn’t resolve with at-home care, schedule an appointment with a physician. Early detection is crucial to recovering from any spinal condition, including spinal stenosis. If spinal stenosis is left untreated for a long time, it can create the risk of permanent nerve damage.
Relieving Spinal Stenosis Pain
Physical therapy is an essential component of any spinal stenosis treatment plan. Physical therapists have the expertise to improve patients’ strength and mobility while reducing pain and inflammation.
Your physical therapist will likely start by evaluating your:
- Core, back, and hip muscle strength
- Vertebral mobility
- Gait (how you walk)
- The position of your spine when it bends and twists in various directions
By testing these factors, your physical therapist can determine your unique needs in spinal stenosis treatment.
Physical therapists implement both active and passive treatments. Active treatments generally involve exercises designed to improve muscle strength for spinal support and enhance the patient’s range of motion.
Passive PT treatments are generally intended to alleviate pain and inflammation. These treatments may include heat and cold therapy, massage, acupuncture, and electrical stimulation.
Lifestyle modifications can be extremely helpful for patients with spinal stenosis. Though you may not realize it, your day-to-day activities have a major impact on the health of your spine.
To support your recovery from spinal stenosis, your physician may recommend the following lifestyle adjustments
- Avoiding high-impact activities
High-impact activities like running and lifting heavy objects can worsen spinal stenosis pain. These activities may even accelerate the progression of spinal stenosis. So, make sure to avoid high-impact exercise if you’re struggling with spinal stenosis pain.
- Practicing good posture
Good posture is imperative to spine health. It can also help you manage spinal stenosis pain. So, keep your posture in mind throughout your daily activities, and choose a desk chair with plenty of lumbar spine support.
- Quitting smoking
Smoking cigarettes is damaging to the health of your entire body – including your spine. Nicotine can contribute to spinal degeneration and triggers blood vessel constriction. This limits the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the spine.
- Engaging in low-impact exercise
While high-impact exercise is detrimental to spinal stenosis, low-impact is beneficial. It promotes mobility and muscle strength while improving blood flow to the spine. Some of the most popular low-impact exercises for spinal stenosis include walking, swimming, and water aerobics.
- Maintaining a healthy weight
Extra pounds add extra stress to the spine. So, to allow the spine to heal, spinal stenosis patients need to maintain a healthy weight.
As a bonus, a healthy diet that supports your weight loss efforts can benefit your body’s healing process. Nutrients like calcium, magnesium, iron, vitamin A, B vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids promote spinal health.
If you don’t get enough of certain nutrients in your diet, supplements can bridge the gap. However, make sure to talk to your doctor before taking a new supplement or making a large change in your diet.
Your physician may recommend over-the-counter and/or prescription medications to relieve spinal stenosis pain. While pain medications should be closely managed by your doctor and aren’t generally considered long-term solutions, they can be helpful for spinal stenosis patients.
Medications that may be used for spinal stenosis include:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, can help with both pain and inflammation from spinal stenosis
- Anti-seizure drugs can help with pain triggered by nerve damage
- Antidepressants, which may help patients suffering from chronic pain
Steroid injections can offer fast relief from spinal stenosis pain and inflammation. However, steroid injections often aren’t helpful for patients’ long-term spinal stenosis recovery. They may cause concerning side effects, including tissue damage if used more than three to four times per year.
Most spinal stenosis patients can manage back pain and other symptoms with non-surgical treatment methods. However, when these methods fail to provide results after six to twelve months, physicians may recommend spine surgery.
Surgery is considered the only true cure of spinal stenosis. This is because non-surgical treatments can’t open up the spinal canal to reverse the narrowing effect of this spinal condition.
The goal of spinal stenosis surgery is to resolve nerve compression by creating more space in the spinal canal. This is accomplished through spinal decompression surgery.
Spinal decompression surgery involves removing portions of spinal tissue to resolve nerve impingement. There are multiple types of spinal decompression surgery, including laminectomy, discectomy, and foraminotomy, among other procedures.
Conventionally, spinal surgeons pair spinal decompression surgery with spinal fusion. Spinal fusion is a method of stabilizing the spine using a bone graft. The bone graft causes the affected vertebrae to fuse into one bone over time.
In patients who require surgery for spinal stenosis pain relief, spinal fusion alternatives can now be considered. Advancements in the medical field have led to non-fusion spinal implants, which can stabilize the spine while preserving the patient’s range of motion.
Patients should contact a spine specialist in their area to learn more about the range of treatment options currently available for spinal stenosis.