Lower back pain is widespread and affects most of us at some point in our lives. However, ongoing back pain issues may signal a larger, potentially degenerative problem, such as lumbar spinal stenosis.
At Spinal Diagnostics, our team believes in collaborating with patients — after all, you’re the one feeling the discomfort. The first step in this partnership is to provide you with the information you need to understand better the many causes of lower back pain. We’re going to focus on one of the more common culprits here — lumbar spinal stenosis.
The term “stenosis” means an abnormal narrowing of a passageway in your body, such as your spinal canal. With lumbar spinal stenosis (LSS), the part of your spinal canal in your lower back begins to close in, which can irritate the sensitive nerve roots in the area, causing pain.
Age-related and wear-and-tear conditions like LSS are prevalent. By the age of 50, 95% of people experience some degree of degenerative changes along their spines, and LSS often develops in people over the age of 60.
The most common cause of LSS is arthritis. As you get older, your intervertebral discs naturally lose moisture, which causes a loss of springy volume. As your discs lose their shape, more pressure is placed on the facet joints in your spine, which causes the breakdown of their protective cartilage.
When your facet joints lose cartilage and your bones rub together, your body responds by creating more bone, which crowds your spinal canal. As well, other tissues, such as your ligaments, may thicken to make up for the loss of support in your discs, which further crowds your spinal canal.
During the early stages of LSS, most people don’t feel any symptoms. As the condition progresses and arthritis develops, the narrowing in your spinal canal can begin to compress the nerves in the area, which often leads to:
Of course, pain is the first sign that usually grabs your attention. The pain can be localized, meaning you feel it in your lower back, as well as in your buttocks. The pain can also travel from your lower back and down into one or both of your legs and can sometimes switch from one leg to the other.
Often, this pain is worse when you’re standing up straight and subsides if you lean forward, which takes the pressure off the nerve. For example, if you’re at the grocery store and you feel pain, leaning forward against your shopping cart can often provide some relief.
Due to this pain, many of our patients struggle with balance issues and rely on an assistive device, such as a cane or a four-wheeled walker with a seat.
Along with pain, you may experience numbness and tingling that radiate down one side of your lower extremities.
If you’re experiencing weakness in one of your legs and even down into your foot, this could be a sign of LSS.
Your lower back may be stiffer than usual, especially in the mornings when you take your first steps or after any period of inactivity.
If any of the symptoms we outlined above sound familiar, you should see us so that we can identify the problem. While we may not be able to turn back the clock on degenerative processes in your spine, there’s much we can do to restore pain-free movement, including traditional epidural steroid injections.
We also offer the Vertiflex® and MILD® procedures — two minimally invasive surgeries that create more space between your vertebrae, relieving the pressure on your nerves.
We can also suggest some great exercises that will help take the pressure off your spine (and your nerves).
If you’d like to learn more about treatment options for lumbar spinal stenosis, please contact one of our two locations in Tualatin or Newberg, Oregon.