Most people have probably heard the term "spinal stenosis" before but have no idea what it is. They may only know that it involves the back and can be extremely painful. In fact, some people may even be suffering from spinal stenosis right now and not be aware of what it actually does or what causes it. However, it is important to know as much about it as possible so that you know how to treat it if you have it, or how to help prevent it from occurring if you don't.
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Stenosis is a Greek term that means "narrow or constricted space." And this is exactly what spinal stenosis is: a decrease in the size of the openings in the spine. When those openings get smaller, they can pinch the spinal cord or spinal nerves and cause pain. But what are these openings, and what causes them to narrow? In order to explain this better, a brief description of the spine is needed:
- The spine is made up of 24 bones called vertebrae, each seperated by a disc that acts as a cushion for them and also allows them to move in six directions.
- The spine's main purpose is to protect the spinal cord, which runs inside the spine from the head to the tailbone in what is called the spinal canal.
- Between each vertebrae is an opening where nerves exit the spine and travel throughout the body.
Spinal stenosis occurs when the opening that one of those nerves runs through gets smaller, causing the nerve to be pinched. If it is the spinal canal that is narrowing and pinching the spinal cord directly, it is called canal stenosis. If it is the opening between the vertebrae that is shrinking and impacting one of the nerves exiting the spinal canal, it is known as foraminal stenosis. Both of these forms of stenosis can happen in any area of the spine, but mostly occur in the lower back and neck.
When these nerves get pinched, it can cause any number of problems. Of course, the number one symptom is PAIN. Spinal stenosis can be extremely painful for some people, although it can differ from person to person. Some may in fact have very little if any pain. In addition to the pain, there can be several other symptoms from stenosis depending on where the nerve is being pinched. These can include one or more of the following:
- Muscle weakness
- Tingling, numbness, or hot and cold feeling in the extremities
- Pain in other areas of the body related to where the nerve being pinched travels
- Difficulty moving or walking
So what causes spinal stenosis? Many cases occur because of a degeneration of the discs in the spine. When these discs start to break down for whatever reason, they start getting smaller and weaker, which means they cannot support the vertebrae as well as before. This causes instability in the spine, and can lead to the stenosis. But this is not the only cause of spinal stenosis. Herdity, back trauma, arthritis, or just the effects of getting older can all cause it to happen.
At The Illinois Back Institute we are dedicated to educating people, because we know that the more that you understand about your problem, the more likely you are to eliminate it. We specialize in Functional Disc Rehydration - a multi-disciplinary approach to making the back healthier without surgery, injections or medications.
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