Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis is a condition characterized by the narrowing of the spinal canal, resulting in compression of the nerves and spinal cord.

Spinal Stenosis
Spinal Stenosis
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Your Guide to Understanding Spinal Stenosis

What is Spinal Stenosis?

Spinal stenosis is a medical condition characterized by the narrowing of the spaces within the spine, which puts pressure on the nerves and spinal cord. This narrowing can occur in different parts of the spine, including the cervical (neck), thoracic (mid-back), or lumbar (lower back) regions.

The most common type of spinal stenosis is called lumbar spinal stenosis, which affects the lower back. As we age, the spinal discs that act as cushions between the vertebrae can degenerate, causing the spaces within the spine to narrow. Additionally, bone overgrowth, known as bone spurs, may develop, further contributing to the narrowing of the spinal canal.

How can Physiotherapy help treat Spinal Stenosis?

Physiotherapy services play a crucial role in alleviating the symptoms of spinal stenosis. Through a combination of manual therapy, exercise, and education, physiotherapists help individuals with spinal stenosis manage pain, improve mobility, and enhance their overall quality of life. Manual therapy techniques, such as joint mobilizations and soft tissue massage, can help to loosen stiff joints and muscles, reducing pain and improving range of motion.

Physiotherapists also design personalized exercise programs that focus on strengthening the core muscles, improving posture, and increasing flexibility. Additionally, physiotherapy provides education on proper body mechanics and postural awareness to minimize strain on the spine. By addressing the underlying factors contributing to spinal stenosis, physiotherapy helps individuals experience relief and improve their functional abilities.

What causes Spinal Stenosis?

Spinal stenosis is typically caused by the natural aging process and wear and tear on the spine. As we get older, the spinal discs that act as cushions between the vertebrae can degenerate, leading to a narrowing of the spaces within the spine. This degeneration can occur due to factors such as repetitive movements, poor posture, or genetic predisposition.

In addition to disc degeneration, bone overgrowth can also contribute to spinal stenosis. Over time, the body may produce extra bone in response to the wear and tear on the spine. These bone spurs can grow into the spinal canal and reduce the available space for the nerves and spinal cord.

What treatments might help Spinal Stenosis?

The symptoms of spinal stenosis can vary depending on the location and severity of the narrowing in the spine. Common symptoms may include:

  • Pain in the back or neck: Spinal stenosis can cause pain in the affected area of the spine. The pain may be a dull ache or a sharp, shooting pain. It can radiate to other parts of the body, such as the arms or legs.
  • Numbness or tingling: As spinal stenosis compresses the nerves in the spine, it can lead to sensations of numbness, tingling, or a "pins and needles" feeling in the arms, legs, or other areas supplied by the affected nerves.
  • Weakness: The compression of nerves may also result in muscle weakness. This weakness can affect various muscle groups, leading to difficulty with tasks that require strength and coordination.
  • Difficulty walking: Spinal stenosis can cause problems with balance and coordination. Some individuals may experience leg pain, cramping, or weakness while walking, which can make it challenging to maintain a normal gait.
  • Bowel or bladder dysfunction: In severe cases of spinal stenosis, the compression of nerves can affect the control of the bowel or bladder. This may lead to urinary or fecal incontinence, urgency, or difficulty with elimination.

Signs of Spinal Stenosis:

Spinal stenosis is a condition characterized by the narrowing of the spinal canal, leading to compression of the spinal cord and nerves. The signs and symptoms of spinal stenosis can vary depending on the location and severity of the condition. Here are some common signs to be aware of:

  • Pain or discomfort: One of the most common symptoms is pain in the neck or back that may radiate to the arms or legs. This pain is often described as a dull ache or a feeling of pressure.
  • Numbness or weakness: Spinal stenosis can cause numbness, tingling, or weakness in the extremities, such as the arms, hands, legs, or feet. These sensations may come and go or persist over time.
  • Difficulty walking or maintaining balance: As the spinal stenosis progresses, it can affect the nerve signals that control movement, leading to difficulty with walking or maintaining balance. Some individuals may experience a shuffling gait or feel unsteady on their feet.
  • Bowel or bladder dysfunction: In severe cases of spinal stenosis, compression of the nerves can impact bowel or bladder function, resulting in incontinence or difficulty with urination or bowel movements.
  • Radicular pain: Spinal stenosis can cause radicular pain, which is sharp, shooting pain that radiates down the arms or legs along the path of the affected nerve roots.

Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis:

The signs of spinal stenosis can vary depending on the location and severity of the narrowing in the spine. Common signs and symptoms may include:

  • Pain in the back or neck: Spinal stenosis can cause pain in the affected area of the spine. The pain may be a dull ache or a sharp, shooting pain. It can radiate to other parts of the body, such as the arms or legs.
  • Numbness or tingling: As spinal stenosis compresses the nerves in the spine, it can lead to sensations of numbness, tingling, or a "pins and needles" feeling in the arms, legs, or other areas supplied by the affected nerves.
  • Weakness: The compression of nerves may also result in muscle weakness. This weakness can affect various muscle groups, leading to difficulty with tasks that require strength and coordination.
  • Difficulty walking: Spinal stenosis can cause problems with balance and coordination. Some individuals may experience leg pain, cramping, or weakness while walking, which can make it challenging to maintain a normal gait.
  • Bowel or bladder dysfunction: In severe cases of spinal stenosis, the compression of nerves can affect the control of the bowel or bladder. This may lead to urinary or fecal incontinence, urgency, or difficulty with elimination.
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When is the right time to see a Physiotherapist for Spinal Stenosis?

The right time to see a physiotherapist for spinal stenosis depends on the severity of your symptoms and how they are impacting your daily life. If you are experiencing persistent or worsening back pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness in your arms or legs, it is a good idea to seek professional help.

If your symptoms are mild and manageable, you may choose to try conservative measures such as gentle exercises, postural adjustments, or over-the-counter pain medications first. However, if your symptoms persist, worsen, or start interfering with your ability to perform daily activities, it is recommended to consult with a healthcare professional.

Meet our Lead Registered Physiotherapist

Brittany Pereira

Brittany Pereira

Registered Physiotherapist

Registered Physiotherapist with a degree from the University of Toronto

Brittany enjoys working with patients across age groups and backgrounds to help them move better, get stronger, understand their bodies and ultimately, feel more confident. She combines her knowledge and clinical experience to best serve her patients.

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Physiotherapist Brittany Pereira working with client at Anchor Health and Performance Clinic Mississauga
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