Spinal Stenosis: Definition and Causes

Spinal Stenosis: Definition and Causes


Spinal stenosis is a very painful condition that occurs, as a rule, within the lower back. It is basically a condition that affects the spine when the spinal structure closes in and the spaces within this structure narrow, resulting in pressure on the nerves in the back, usually, the sciatic nerve in particular.


The spaces in the spinal structure are wither between the individual vertebrae within the spine or in between the spinal cord and the vertebrae (in clinical terms, this is sometimes referred to as the spinal canal).


Although sometimes the pain that this narrowing can cause, is minimal and at best may be an inconvenience, when the narrowing is severe the pain it exacts is also severe and patients can find it a difficult condition to live with.


Causes Of Spinal Stenosis


There is no one single cause of spinal stenosis. Sometimes it may be due to achondroplasia which is an inherited condition where a person does not have ‘normal’ development of bones and their bones also do not grow properly.


However, one of the major causes of stenosis in the spine is simply a natural product of the ageing process. As we age the spinal column can change structurally or it can become inflamed. This can then result in the growth of abnormal appendages which are known as ‘bone spurs’. These spurs then grow within the spinal column and if they grow outwards, they can cause pressure to be exacted not just on the nerves in this location, but also on discs as well.


Rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis are also common causes of spinal stenosis. The vertebrae that are affected by either rheumatoid or osteoarthritis can result in the spinal canal narrowing because the tissues in this location eventually calcify as a result of the arthritis. This makes the spinal canal become blocked by this calcification and the result is spinal stenosis. 


The spine may also have become misaligned which leads to the spinal canal being restricted in terms of the space between the vertebrae and this is another cause of stenosis.


A curvature of the spine or scoliosis may cause the spinal cord to become blocked and therefore stenosis occurs.


So there are many reasons why spinal stenosis may occur. It is usually a condition that is quite slow in terms of its development, slowly increasing in terms of its severity over time.






Treatments and Outcomes


Treatment options vary according to what has caused the spinal stenosis and also how severe it is. Patients may be treated with a combination of medication and physiotherapy. Steroid injections may also be used.


Exercises are seen as being a key way to ensure that the spine is strengthened and when exercises are carried out regularly the spine can become stronger and the pain can be minimised.


A nerve root treatment may also be undertaken to effectively block out pain signals.


Surgery can also be considered, but only as a last option, simply because conservative treatments are always regarded as the best way of dealing with this condition, at least initially.




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