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Pain, to some degree, is a part of everyday life for many people. Although pain can radiate from all parts of the body, one area that can cause a great deal of discomfort is the back. There are many causes for back pain, but one common cause is known as spinal stenosis. Spinal stenosis is a condition in which the spaces in the spine begin to narrow causing pressure to occur on the nerves and spinal cord. The narrowing can occur in three different areas of the spine. The first is the spinal column, or canal, that houses the spinal cord and nerve roots. The second area is in the many canals that branch from the spine. The third area is in between the vertebrae, or bones of the spine.
The most common cause of spinal stenosis is arthritis. Because arthritis is the degeneration of the joints of the body, it can also attack the spine. The disks between the vertebrae in the spine, or intervertebral disks, have high water content in young adults. As the body ages, the disks become dry and lose height, leaving bone on bone contact. This results in an increased pressure on the joints which can lead to arthritis. The body will try to “fix” the situation by creating new bone known as bone spurs. These spurs tend to fill in the space where the nerve passes through pressing on the nerves and spinal cord.
Patients diagnosed with spinal stenosis most commonly complain of back pain. They can also experience burning pain and numbness and weakness in legs and feet. If there is pressure on the nerves in the upper part of the spinal cord, pain can occur in the shoulders as well. Nonsurgical treatments include physical therapy, steroid injections, and anti-inflammatory medications. These methods do not cure spinal stenosis. They are intended to improve the quality of life for the patient. Surgical methods are used when the nonsurgical treatments no longer sustain quality of life. About 80 percent of patients who choose surgical methods report a definite improvement in back and leg pain. The continued advancements in medicine give patients with spinal stenosis hope for better methods to cope with or find a cure for this condition.
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