Age and its Role in the Development of Spinal Stenosis
Spinal stenosis refers to the overall narrowing of the spinal canal. Some people are born with an abnormally narrow canal, though the majority of spinal stenosis cases affect individuals over 50 and are due to degenerative changes in the spinal anatomy.
A long, protective column of vertebrae and intervertebral discs encase the spinal cord, so you can imagine that if any of these components shifts, erodes, or becomes enlarged, the canal’s circumference would be reduced. However, it is not the narrowing itself that makes spinal stenosis painful; rather, it is only when the narrowed spinal canal infringes on the spinal nerves that painful symptoms ensue.
There are a variety of degenerative spine conditions that can contribute to spinal stenosis, including:
- Osteoarthritis – When it affects the spine, this condition involves the gradual breakdown of facet joint cartilage, which can lead to vertebra-on-vertebra friction and the growth of bone spurs.
- Osteoporosis – The gradual loss of vertebral bone density can cause spondylolisthesis, which is when one vertebra slips anteriorly or laterally over the vertebra beneath it.
- Degenerative disc disease – As the cartilaginous outer wall of an intervertebral disc loses water content and elasticity, a herniated disc or a bulging disc can develop.
- Osteopetrosis – A very rare disease that involves the gradual thickening and enlargement of bones due to a defect in the body’s osteoblastic and absorption processes.
Conservative treatments for spinal stenosis
The majority of people who have spinal stenosis can manage their symptoms with conservative treatments. Work with your physician to design a plan of stretching, hot and cold therapies, low-impact exercises and pain medication. If, after several weeks, you see no reduction in your spinal stenosis pain, you may decide to try more targeted treatment methods, such as epidural steroid injections, TENS electric therapy, radiofrequency stimulation or pain patches. For a small percentage of patients, non-operative treatments will not prove effective. If this is the case for you, contact Laser Spine Institute for a no-cost review* of your MRI and to find out if you’re a candidate for our minimally invasive, outpatient procedures that are safer and effective alternatives to open spine surgery.