A herniated disc can cause intense pain that extends into other parts of your body, making it difficult to go about your life as usual. Treatment may include rest, medication, ice or heat therapy, or, in severe cases, surgery.
By age 50, 95% of people experience degenerative changes to their spine as a result of normal wear-and-tear. Sometimes, these degenerative changes lead to narrowing of your spinal canal — a condition called spinal stenosis — causing you to suffer from chronic back pain. Dr. Thomas Jones II, of The Spine Institute of Southeast Texas, helps patients in Pearland and Bellaire, Texas and the surrounding areas, get long-term relief from spinal stenosis and other degenerative back issues.
If you regularly experience low back pain or pain in your legs, spinal stenosis could be the reason. Dr. Jones explains the causes and symptoms of spinal stenosis and what you can do to help ease your discomfort long term.
Spinal stenosis happens when the space around your spinal cord narrows, putting pressure on the surrounding nerves. Age, osteoarthritis, and general wear-and-tear over the years can result in this narrowing of your spinal column. Additionally, when your discs degenerate or become herniated, they settle or collapse, which also results in less space between vertebrae.
Discs are the “cushions” between the bones in your spine, and when they flatten out, they put pressure on your facet joints. As a result, the facet joints also begin to degenerate and the cartilage that protects your joints wears away.
Sometimes your body compensates for this cartilage loss by growing new bone to support your vertebrae. These “bone spurs” can also narrow the passageway in your spine and put pressure on the nerves. Other causes of spinal stenosis include spinal injuries such as from a car accident, or thickening of the ligaments surrounding your spine.
When nerves begin feeling the pressure of a narrowing spinal column, you feel discomfort and pain. At first, you may not even notice, but over time, and depending where in your spinal column the spinal stenosis is occurring, you can end up with sciatica, which causes pain in your buttocks, legs, or all the way down to one foot.
Lumbar spinal stenosis is the result of the narrowing of your spinal column in your lower back. Stenosis in your neck is called cervical spinal stenosis. In either case, it’s a gradual process that causes pain and worsening symptoms as it progresses.
With cervical spinal stenosis, it’s common to feel numbness or tingling on one side of your body in your hand, arm, or leg. If left untreated, the tingling can turn into weakness in the arm or leg, and make it hard for you to balance. Cervical spinal stenosis can also cause chronic neck pain that comes and goes or worsens during a particular activity.
With lumbar stenosis, it’s common to feel numbness or tingling in one leg or foot, weakness in your leg, and pain or cramping after standing for long periods of time. Lumbar stenosis can make it difficult to walk and often feels better when you lean forward and relieve the pressure on your lower vertebrae. Lumbar stenosis also causes a burning sensation in your buttocks or down one leg (sciatica) as the pressure on the sciatic nerve increases from the narrowing spinal column.
If you experience chronic back and leg pain, you know that it certainly doesn’t make it easy to stay active. But, being less active can lead to muscle weakness, which in turn makes spinal stenosis symptoms worse. Physical therapy and performing certain exercises to build up strength in your spine and increase flexibility can help relieve pain so you can stand or walk without so much discomfort in your legs or lower back.
Another option for relieving leg pain that’s the result of pressure on your sciatic nerve is with a steroid injection. During this treatment, Dr. Jones injects a corticosteroid into the area of your spine that’s causing the pressure on your nerve. The injection reduces inflammation around the nerve to relieve some of the pain. Steroid injections aren’t a cure for spinal stenosis, but they may be able to relieve intense pain so you can become more active.
Dr. Jones also specializes in minimally invasive techniques to alleviate spinal stenosis pain in your back and legs. A laminectomy, a type of decompression surgery, is a procedure that creates more space in your spinal canal to relieve the pressure on your nerves.
Dr. Jones performs this type of surgery when more conservative methods don’t provide the relief you need to stand or walk without leg pain. It’s safe, minimally disruptive to the surrounding tissue, and promotes a fairly quick recovery so you can get back to your daily activities without too much interruption.
If you have pain in your legs, back, or neck, spinal stenosis could be the culprit. If you’re not getting relief from over-the-counter pain relievers, it’s a good idea to set up an appointment so Dr. Jones can evaluate your spine and determine the underlying cause of your symptoms. Call the location nearest you or request an appointment online to take the first step toward a long-term solution for a life with less pain.
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