Problems of the lower back are quite common nowadays. One such problem is lumbar spinal stenosis, which can lead to excruciating pain and interfere with the ability to walk. While its exact prevalence is unknown, LSS is the most common reason for individuals over the age of 65 to undergo spinal surgery (1).
What is it?
Lumbar spinal stenosis (LSS) refers to the narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower back area. Stenosis means “narrowing” and lumbar refers to the lower back. This narrowing of the spinal canal places excess pressure (“pinches”) on the spinal cord and the nerves that run through it, causing chronic pain and dysfunctional movement in the lower body.
The severity of LSS symptoms may depend on the extent of the narrowing. Symptoms may include radiating pain down buttocks and legs, numbness or weakness of legs, tingling sensations and, in severe cases, loss of bowel or bladder control. Individuals with LSS often have trouble walking and may have to take short breaks to sit or lean forward to relieve tension on their back. Not everyone who has LSS will develop symptoms.
Narrowing of the spinal canal can happen for many reasons, but the most common is osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis (OA) refers to the inflammation of joints due to wear-and-tear. Over-time OA can reshape joints and form bone spurs (bony projections)that place excess pressure on the spinal cord and nerves.
It takes time for OA to progress to an advanced state where bone spurs develop and therefore is most common among the elderly. Other causes of LSS may include:
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Spinal Injuries
- Disc Herniations
- Spondylolisthesis (slipping of vertebrae)
- Hypertrophy (thickening) of adjacent ligaments
- Hypertrophy of vertebral facet joint
Treatments for LSS
LSS has no cure, but it can be treated to relieve some of the symptoms. Treatments include physical therapy to strengthen muscles and regain functional use of the lower extremities. Exercises that improve range of motion and flexibility are good for maintaining independence and for improving overall quality of life. Exercise is also known to improve chronic pain and promote lymphatic drainage, the removal of excess fluid which may relieve pressure to the area.
Alternative treatments such as massage therapy and acupuncture aid with pain management and relaxation. Similarly, osteopathic and chiropractic manipulations may improve functional use (ability to walk), improve balance, and offer pain relief. Other techniques such as electrical stimulation may also prove effective. In severe cases where pain management doesn’t seem to work and symptoms are only getting worse, surgery to physically relieve pressure on the spinal cord and nerve may be an option.
Do you or does someone you love suffer from LSS? Let us help. Call 831-425-9500 and begin your treatment with a Functional Movement Screen
- “Lumbar Spinal Stenosis: an Update on the Epidemiology, Diagnosis and Treatment.” AME Medical Journal, http://amj.amegroups.com/article/view/3837/4553.
- “Spinal Stenosis.” Rheumatology.org, https://www.rheumatology.org/I-Am-A/Patient-Caregiver/Diseases-Conditions/Spinal-Stenosis.