What Happens If Spinal Stenosis Is Left Untreated?

Happens If Spinal Stenosis Is Left

Suffering from a major back condition can have a significant impact on your life, resulting in regular pain and discomfort, a lack of mobility, and more. This can prevent you from doing the things you enjoy doing and maybe even hinder your working life. 

One such condition that can have a negative impact on a person’s life is spinal stenosis. In this article, we will discuss what happens if spinal stenosis is left untreated, its causes, and what can be done to help cure it. 

What is Spinal Stenosis?

Spinal stenosis is a condition that is caused by the narrowing of the spinal canal, impacting a person’s central nervous system (I.E. the spinal cord and spinal nerves). This narrowing applies pressure on the spinal cord and surrounding nerves, resulting in discomfort in various parts of the body. 

Spinal stenosis typically occurs in three regions of the spine, meaning we can categorize it into three main types.

  • Lumbar spinal stenosis – This is the most common form of spinal stenosis and occurs in the lower (lumbar) region of the back.
  • Thoracic spinal stenosis – This type of spinal stenosis affects the middle part of the back.
  • Cervical spinal stenosis – This relates to the upper region of the back. 

As previously mentioned, spinal stenosis in any of these regions can have a negative impact on a person’s quality of life, particularly if left untreated, potentially resulting in consistent pain.

What causes Spinal Stenosis?

The most common cause of spinal stenosis is the wear and tear that is part and parcel of aging. This wear and tear results in the gradual deterioration of the spinal column and the adjacent area. Everyday movement causes pressure and shock on your spine and this can result in erosion of the vertebrae and column itself which are designed to absorb this shock. 

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Aging is not the only cause of spinal stenosis, however. The condition can also be caused by:

  • Injuries and trauma that have damaged the spine
  • Congenital defects, such as a person being born with a narrower spinal canal than normal.
  • Thick ligaments along the spinal column that apply pressure to the nerves in the spine, resulting in compression. 
  • Bone spurs
  • Herniated Discs

Spinal Stenosis Symptoms

There are a range of symptoms that can be associated with lumbar, thoracic, and cervical spinal stenosis. Here are some of the most common.

  • Pain caused by the compression of the nerve roots or spinal cord
  • Weakness in the back and/or neck
  • Numbness in the back, neck, or legs
  • A tingling or burning sensation in the back, neck, or legs
  • Difficulty standing or walking, and a lack of balance

What happens if Spinal Stenosis is left untreated?

If you notice any of the symptoms above and they have been present for a period of time, then it is highly advised that you consult with a medical professional to help diagnose the issue, For the best chance of recovering from spinal stenosis, it is best to book a consultation as soon as a problem is detected. 

Leaving spinal stenosis to go untreated can result in the condition becoming much worse, potentially causing much more serious symptoms than those listed in the previous section. 

If left untreated, spinal stenosis could result in

  • Losing sensation in your back or legs
  • Losing control of your bladder or bowels
  • Cauda equina syndrome which is the severe compression of nerve roots in the lower back, causing significant pain and immobility. 

Other Back Conditions You Should Be Aware Of

As well as spinal stenosis, you should also be aware of the conditions below, should you experience any discomfort in your back.

  • Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis
  • Adult Degenerative Scoliosis
  • Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease
  • Cervical Disc Herniation
  • Cervical Myelopathy
  • Compression Fractures
  • Degenerative Spondylolisthesis
  • Isthmic Spondylolisthesis
  • Low Back Sprains and Strains
  • Lumbar Degenerative Disc Disease
  • Lumbar Disc Herniation
  • Neck Sprains (Whiplash)
  • Neck Strain
  • Osteoporosis

What are effective Spinal Stenosis Treatments?

Leaving spinal stenosis untreated can see the condition to worsen rapidly. Fortunately, once diagnosed there are a number of effective treatments that can help to relieve the symptoms and potentially cure a person’s spinal stenosis permanently. 

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It is important to determine that the cause of the symptoms is spinal stenosis, not one of the conditions listed in the previous section. To do this, a spinal specialist will undertake a physical examination of the patient, in addition to other tests, and maybe even a CT scan for an accurate diagnosis. 

Once the cause of the problem has been established, your doctor can prescribe relevant treatments depending on the severity of the condition. 

Treatment of spinal stenosis may include:

  • Physical Therapy – This helps to enable more mobility in the spine, this, in turn, helps to make the spine more flexible and strengthens muscles in the back, resulting in additional stability.
  • Pain killing Injections – This can be an effective way of offering immediate pain relief.
  • Surgery – Surgery is considered a last resort for spinal stenosis but in some severe cases, it may be unavoidable. If possible, most medical professionals will try to avoid a person requiring surgery due to the postoperative risks.

This option is recommended to anyone who has not shown any improvement following a course of physical therapy, if painkillers have little effect, or if the condition is having a significant impact on a person’s quality of life. 

Spinal Stenosis Surgery

Many doctors are now promoting the benefits of a TOPS System

The main type of spinal stenosis surgery is lumbar decompression surgery, this is recommended when a person is suffering from spinal stenosis in the lower back and the condition has become unbearable. 

The surgeon makes an incision to access the lamina (the arched section of the vertebra). This then allows them to manipulate the compressed nerve, moving it towards the center of the spinal column, while the bone or ligament that is pressing on the nerve will be removed. 

The recovery time for this type of surgery is typically between 4-6 weeks and to maintain stability in the back, it is generally paired with spinal fusion surgery. Unfortunately, spinal fusion surgery can result in a lack of mobility, and further damage to the vertebrae can occur over time.