What is Spinal Stenosis?
Stenosis simply means ‘narrowing’ so it is possible to have arterial stenosis, tracheal stenosis, and mitral valve stenosis amongst other things. Spinal stenosis is, therefore, the narrowing of the spaces in the spinal canal, with or without symptoms, depending on the impact of the reduction in space on the nerves, spinal cord, and blood vessels. Spinal stenosis with neurogenic claudication is often responsible for back pain, radiating nerve pain, weakness, numbness, and paraesthesia in the limbs, and familiar conditions such as sciatica.
Acute and Inherited Causes of Spinal Stenosis
An acute period of inflammation caused by illness or infection may lead to pinched nerves, as can longer-term conditions such as degenerative disc disease, or arthritis in the spine. Not all patients suffering from spinal stenosis have a predisposition towards the condition as many incur a singular trauma to the spine from a fall, whiplash, or other accident. That being said, patients with congenitally narrow spaces in the spine are more likely to suffer permanent or more severe effects after such an injury. Where spinal stenosis occurs at a younger age it is also more likely that genetics are partly to blame for their symptoms. Some very young patients with congenitally narrow foramina can experience the symptoms of spinal stenosis and pinched nerves but fail to be properly diagnosed simply because they are considered too young to have such a condition usually connected to age-related degeneration of the spine.
Who Gets Spinal Stenosis?Spinal stenosis sufferers are usually over fifty years of age, often have jobs requiring repetitive manual stress and strain on the back, and may also have arthritis symptoms in other areas of the body such as the hands or feet. Spinal stenosis is usually degenerative, with the growth of bone spurs in an unstable spine following on from degeneration of the intervertebral discs and thickening of the spinal ligaments. These are the body’s ways of trying to stabilize the spinal column but often the mechanisms backfire and result in pinched nerves or spinal cord compression. Changes in the bone and soft tissues of the spine are more likely where a patient has had previous injury, either acute or repetitive minor injuries due to work or a particular hobby such as surfing, weightlifting, or even flying aircraft.
Diagnosing Spinal Stenosis
Spinal stenosis commonly goes undetected until acute symptoms arise or the patient undergoes an X-Ray or MRI scan for an unrelated issue. Many people remain asymptomatic even where evidence of spinal stenosis is clear to see on such diagnostic imaging and, in such cases, treatment is usually unwarranted and symptoms may never arise. In other cases, even mild spinal stenosis in the lumbar spine or cervical spine can cause debilitating symptoms and require treatment. Some conditions which can cause spinal stenosis and are known to have a hereditary component include ankylosing spondylitis, and rheumatoid arthritis, and so physicians may be more inclined to investigate these as possible causes of symptoms in a patients with close relatives with such conditions.
Treating Acute and Chronic Spinal Stenosis
Patients with a family history of spinal stenosis and symptoms of the condition may wish to take preventative steps earlier in life and seek medical attention for more minor symptoms earlier in order to try to counteract their genetic propensity to the back condition. However, just because a patient’s family members have had to undergo back surgery for spinal stenosis this does not mean that they themselves will also need, or benefit from, surgery.
Patients whose spinal stenosis is inherited and centers mainly on arthritic changes in the spine may find that certain medications or natural supplements and lifestyle modifications can slow down such degeneration. Others may find that knowing their family history and what has worked for other relatives with spinal stenosis can aid their own diagnosis and treatment but it is important to remember that whilst spinal stenosis can be inherited it is also often caused by everyday wear and tear or acute injury to the spine.