Stenosis means closing in. Spinal stenosis refers to a condition in which the tissues inside the spinal canal are closed in, or compressed. The spinal cord ends at L2. Below this level, the spinal canal contains only spinal nerves that travel to the pelvis and legs. When stenosis narrows the spinal canal, the spinal nerves are squeezed inside the canal.
The pressure from the condition can cause problems in the way the nerves work. The resulting problems include pain and numbness in the buttocks and legs and weakness in the muscles supplied by the nerves. Because these nerves travel to the bladder and rectum, weakness in these muscles can cause problems with control of the bladder and bowels.
Spinal nerves exit the spinal canal between the vertebrae in a tunnel called the neural foramen. Anything that causes this tunnel to become smaller can squeeze the spinal nerve where it passes through the tunnel. This condition is called foraminal stenosis, meaning the foramen is narrowed. As the disc collapses and loses height, the vertebral body above begins to collapse toward the one below. The opening around the nerve root narrows, squeezing the nerve. Arthritis of the facet joints causes bone spurs to form and point into the foramen, causing further nerve compression and irritation. Foraminal stenosis can cause a combination of mechanical pain and neurogenic pain from the irritated nerve root.
Treatment for stenosis
Unless your condition is causing significant problems or is rapidly getting worse, spinal stenosis is first addressed with nonsurgical treatments. Up to one-half of all patients with mild-to-moderate lumbar spinal stenosis can manage their symptoms with conservative (nonsurgical) care. Neurologic decline and paralysis in this group is rare.
At Pittman Physical Therapy, we may prescribe ways to immobilize the spine. Keeping the back still for a short time can calm inflammation and pain. Patients may find that curling up to sleep or lying back with their knees bent and supported gives the greatest relief. These positions flex the spine forward, which widens the spinal canal and can ease symptoms.
Our Physical Therapist may also suggest using traction. Traction is a common treatment for stenosis. It gently stretches the low back, taking pressure off the spinal nerves. Hands-on treatments such as soft-tissue mobilization may be used initially. They are used to help you begin moving with less pain and greater ease.
It is important to improve the strength and coordination in the abdominal and low back muscles. Our Physical Therapist will create a program to help you regain back movement, strength, endurance, and function.
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