Spinal stenosis is a serious condition that occurs when the space around the spinal cord narrows. This can happen as a result of arthritis, spinal degeneration, and natural aging.
When this condition goes untreated, the patient’s quality of life can be severely impacted. Alyssa Berryman explains what can happen when spinal stenosis goes untreated.
What is Spinal Stenosis?
Spinal stenosis is the result of the narrowing of the space around the spinal cord. Spinal stenosis often happens in the neck or lower back. The spinal cord may swell due to pressure, or space may be lessened by bone spurs or osteoarthritis.
When the spinal cord and nerves are compressed, they cause severe pain when a patient stands or walks. It is worse when a patient is walking on a hill, using a ramp, or going up or down steps. People with spinal stenosis generally feel some relief when they are sitting down or when they lean over a grocery cart, walker, or countertop.
What are the Causes of Spinal Stenosis?
Sometimes, people are born with a narrowed spinal canal. This is known as congenital stenosis. Most people develop the condition over time due to the natural effects of aging. Osteoarthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, spinal tumors, and Paget’s Disease can be causes of spinal stenosis.
Paget’s Disease is a less common chronic bone disorder which happens in older adults. It causes the bones to repair rapidly, leading to softer bones and unnatural bone growth. This disease can quickly lead to spinal stenosis.
What are the Consequences of Spinal Stenosis?
The most dangerous condition which result from spinal stenosis going untreated is myelopathy. Damage to the spinal cord can be exacerbated by spinal stenosis. This can cause permanent nerve damage, and in some cases can cause paralysis and death.
Myelopathy can cause a patient to lose his or her balance. It can also cause difficulty with the positional sense of the arms and legs. Patients may have a difficult time judging where their arms and legs should go.
Patients often see changes in their handwriting as myelopathy progresses. Fine motor skills may be damaged.
Bowel and bladder control may be damaged, leading patients to incontinence. This is a serious problem and should be examined by a rheumatologist right away.
Neurogenic claudication is the cramping of the legs due to spinal stenosis. Patients may feel relief when they are in certain positions such as bending forward. The condition causes weakness and pain in the legs and buttocks. Standing and walking aggravate the condition.
Cauda equina syndrome happens when the nerves that branch from the bottom of the spinal cord are compromised. Cauda equina translates to “horsetail,” a reference to the arrangement of these nerves in the body. These nerves transmit information to and from the lower body, including the pelvic organs. When patients have cauda equina syndrome, this is an emergency medical condition that can lead to permanent paralysis, incontinence, or death.
What are the Treatments for Spinal Stenosis?
Treatments for spinal stenosis include exercise, physical therapy, and pain medications. In serious cases, patients may also receive surgical care to open the spinal channels. Steroid injections can also be used. Traction therapy is another option for spinal stenosis.
Patients with spinal stenosis should never be manipulated by a chiropractor. This can cause permanent nerve and spine damage.
Always See Your Doctor
If you have any symptoms that could be associated with spinal stenosis, it is vital that you see a doctor or rheumatologist. This progressive condition can lead to life-threatening side effects if it is not properly treated. It can also lead to permanent nerve damage and paralysis as well as incontinence. Alyssa Berryman reminds patients that spinal stenosis can be treated, though it cannot be reversed.