Spinal narrowing, which is also known as spinal stenosis (“stenosis” means “narrowing”), can result from injury, overuse, an inherited condition or from age-related degeneration of components of the spinal anatomy. A number of anatomical abnormalities can reduce the size of the spinal canal or of the openings (known as foramina) that allow nerve roots to exit the spinal column. These conditions include bone spurs, osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease and others. Spinal stenosis typically does not exhibit symptoms unless the restricted space leads to irritation or compression of a nerve root or the spinal cord itself. In other words, spinal stenosis itself is not usually considered to be symptomatic; it is the nerve compression and irritation that arise as a result of the stenosis that cause problems.
Who is at risk for spinal narrowing?
Although a neck or back injury can lead to spinal stenosis in people of any age, most spinal narrowing can be found in people who are middle-aged or older. Over the years, the spinal anatomy is subjected to a wide range of stress-inducing movement, including bending, twisting and turning. It is these movements that cause the anatomical elements in the spine to naturally degenerate as an individual ages. The vertebrae, intervertebral discs, ligaments, muscles and joints of the spine naturally begin to wear down and compress, and abnormalities such as bone spurs, herniated discs and ossified ligaments are fairly common results. It is this natural spinal deterioration that tends to contribute directly to the narrowing of the spinal column. Some common risk factors for developing spinal stenosis include:
- Genetics – inherited traits can make certain people more vulnerable to spinal stenosis, and in rare cases, some individuals are born with an abnormally narrow spine.
- Age – people who are 50 or older are more likely to develop stenosis of the spine.
- Obesity – excess body weight places more stress on the spine, which can lead to instability and tissue damage.
- Smoking – ingredients in cigarette smoke can constrict blood vessels and limit the distribution of nutrients.
- Injury history – a spinal injury that is experienced early in life can affect spinal stability later on.
Treatment for spinal narrowing
Symptoms associated with spinal stenosis typically can be managed using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, epidural steroidal injections, exercise, stretching and other conservative treatments over the course of several weeks or months. However, if chronic neck or back pain persists despite exhaustive conservative treatment, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn about the many advantages of our minimally invasive, outpatient procedures, which are performed with state-of-the-art technology.