Spinal Stenosis And Back Pain

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When the spinal canal becomes blocked or narrowed, the condition is referred to as spinal stenosis. Back pain can develop if the narrowing increases pressure in the spinal column and leads to the squeezing or pinching of the spinal cord and/or its nerve roots. Nerve compression can cause pain at the pinched location. Muscle weakness, numbness, tingling, burning, cramping, spasms, and pain may also radiate across the lower back and down through the hips, buttocks, legs, and feet.

Thoracic vs. Lumbar Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis can affect the back in the cervical (upper), thoracic (mid-back), or lumbar (lower back) regions of the spine. However, compared to the thoracic spine, lumbar spinal stenosis is diagnosed far more frequently. Why? Much like the cervical spine (neck), the lumbar region is incredibly mobile, making it more susceptible to wear and tear. The lumbar spine is also responsible for supporting the weight of the entire upper body, which places a lot of stress onto this area. In contrast, the thoracic region is anchored by the rib cage, making it more stable than the lumbar and cervical segments of the spine. As a result, the thoracic spine typically experiences fewer degenerative spinal conditions. If thoracic spinal stenosis does occur, however, it can be particularly dangerous, as the diameter of the thoracic spinal canal is usually less than the diameter in the other spinal regions, making spinal cord compression more likely.


Spinal stenosis in the back may be caused by any of the following:

• Traumatic injury
• Degenerative disc disease
• Tumors
• Thickened ligaments
• Spinal arthritis
• Congenital defects


A doctor or spine specialist may initially recommend a course of conservative (non-invasive) treatments to help manage the symptoms associated with spinal stenosis in the back. These might include methods such as physical therapy, back bracing, pain medications, and epidural steroid injections. A patient may only be asked to consider surgical treatment if several weeks or months of non-invasive methods prove ineffective.

In Conclusion

In rare cases, spinal stenosis in the lower back may lead to permanent lower-body paralysis and incontinence. This frightening and serious complication can occur if the narrowing of the spinal canal compresses the cauda equina – a bundle of nerves that extends off the bottom of the spinal cord in the lumbar (lower) portion of the spine. The condition is called cauda equina syndrome and it requires emergency surgery. Left untreated, cauda equina syndrome can cause permanent damage, so if you experience a loss of urinary or bowel control – or difficulty walking – go to the emergency room immediately.

Thankfully, cauda equina syndrome is uncommon. Most people with spinal stenosis have mild to moderate pain and found relief from their symptoms through a course of conservative treatments such as rest, over-the-counter or prescription medications, physical therapy, stretching, weight loss, and hot/cold compresses. For more severe pain, a doctor can inject medication directly into the afflicted area of the spine.

Alternative spinal stenosis treatments are available, as well, such as chiropractic care, yoga, dietary supplements, and acupuncture. Always consult your physician before trying any new treatment, since some treatments can make your symptoms worse.

About the Author:

Patrick Foote is the Director of eBusiness at Laser Spine Institute, the leader in endoscopic spine surgery. Laser Spine Institute specializes in safe and effective outpatient procedures for spinal stenosis and other spinal conditions.

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