As you age, the cartilage and discs in your spine can wear down.
This can lead to spinal stenosis.
Although spinal stenosis can occur at any age, it affects the wellbeing and daily life of many seniors.
If you or someone you love is experiencing difficulty with standing up straight, muscle weakness, numbness and tingling in the arms or legs, pain, or even bladder and bowel issues, spinal stenosis may be the cause.
Healthy seniors physical therapy near me can help.
Today, let’s take a closer look at spinal stenosis – what it is, what causes it, and how a spinal issues physical therapist can help.
What Is Spinal Stenosis?
To understand spinal stenosis, it’s helpful to understand the three key components of your spine – your spinal cord, your spinal column, and your spinal nerves.
Your spinal column is a set of stacking bone segments, called vertebrae, which support your body and protect your spinal cord.
Your spinal cord is a bundle of nerve tissue that passes through a round opening in the middle of each vertebra.
Most people have 31 pairs of spinal nerves that branch off from the spinal cord, leaving the protective spinal column through spaces between the vertebrae.
To protect the nerves from being pinched and the bones from grinding together, you also have spinal discs, which you can think of like a fluid filled sac that moves as you move.
Their job is to act as padding between each pair of vertebrae.
Spinal stenosis can happen when extra bone growth or inflammation in your spinal cord creates extra pressure on your spinal cord or spinal nerves.
There are two different types of spinal stenosis.
Central stenosis happens when changes in your spine restrict the openings in your vertebrae.
This creates pressure on your spinal cord.
This can be caused by new bone growth or spinal column inflammation.
Lateral stenosis happens when changes in your spine, like herniated discs or bone spurs, lead to less space between your vertebrae.
This puts pressure on your spinal nerves.
What Causes Spinal Stenosis?
In most cases, spinal stenosis is the result of natural changes that occur in your spine as you age.
Stenosis is another way of saying that something has gotten narrower – in this case, the spaces in your vertebrae that your spinal cord and spinal nerves pass through to reach other parts of the body.
Spinal stenosis can be associated with osteoarthritis, age, spinal injuries, spinal disease, spinal tumors, or thickening of the ligaments of the spine.
If you have osteoarthritis, the cartilage between some of your joints has deteriorated.
If this happens in your spine, your body may respond by growing little outcroppings of bone, called bone spurs.
These bone spurs can put pressure on your spinal nerves, causing pain and other symptoms.
As you age, the discs between your vertebrae naturally flatten, leaving less room between your vertebrae.
With less padding to separate each vertebra from the next, your spine can compress, putting pressure on the spinal nerves that branch off from the spinal cord through the gaps between your vertebrae.
RELATED: Osteoarthritis Pain Management In Washington
Spinal Stenosis Symptoms
The symptoms of spinal stenosis can vary according to where along your spine the stenosis occurs.
Cervical spine stenosis is stenosis in the vertebrae of your neck.
It has symptoms like:
- Neck pain
- Muscle weakness
- Tingling or numbness in one or both arms
Lumbar stenosis is stenosis in your lower back.
This impacts your lower body more, so you may feel all the above symptoms, but only in your lower back and legs.
RELATED: Understanding Back Pain: Lower Back Pain
If you have lumbar spinal stenosis, you may find that your symptoms get worse while walking and improve when you sit.
Spinal stenosis lower in the spine can also impact bowel or bladder function.
How Does A Physical Therapist Diagnose Spinal Stenosis?
Spinal stenosis shares symptoms with a lot of other conditions related to aging, so your physical therapist must be thorough in their evaluation.
Your physical therapist will review your medical history, observe your movement and strength, and ask clarifying questions.
This may include:
- Asking specific questions about where you feel pain, weakness, numbness or tingling or ask you to draw a map of your symptoms on a body diagram
- Asking for details about your symptoms, like what you are doing when you notice symptoms, how long they last, and what worsens or improves your symptoms
- Checking the range of motion in your spine, arms, and legs
- Observing your posture when sitting and standing and observing how you walk and move
- Checking your muscle strength and sensation
- Performing hands on tests to check how much mobility the joints and muscles in your spine have
- Testing the strength of different groups of muscles
Your physical therapist will work closely with your doctor and other health care providers to make sure you get the right tests and treatments.
How Can Physical Therapy For Spinal Stenosis Help?
Aging is normal, but spinal stenosis is not.
Working with a physical therapist, you can find exercises that help alleviate pressure, increase muscle strength and range of motion, and help reduce pain.
RELATED: Chronic Pain Physical Therapy Near Me
1. Gentle Movement Exercises
Certain stretches and exercises can help take pressure off your nerves, which will alleviate pain and other symptoms.
Your physical therapist will teach you how to do these exercises safely and properly.
Your physical therapist will also show you how to adapt your exercises as your symptoms improve.
2. Muscle Strengthening Exercises
Strong muscles can provide more support for and take pressure off your spine.
In physical therapy, you will practice exercises that strengthen key muscle groups to support and protect your spine.
3. Range Of Motion Exercises
For spinal stenosis, improving range of motion in the joints of the spine is one of the keys to improving symptoms and reducing the risk of more or repeat injuries.
Your physical therapist will show you how to stretch and move your joints and the muscles of your spine, arms, and legs to help you move more effectively and safely.
4. Dry Needling
Dry needling physical therapy is a treatment that uses very fine needles, called filiform needles, inserted into your skin.
Dry needling uses the same needles and looks very similar to acupuncture, a form of traditional Chinese medicine, but focuses on stimulating muscles rather than organs and energy flow.
Your physical therapist can use trigger point release techniques to stimulate the muscles at the site of your pain or the area around it and reduce your pain.
Ergonomics is the study of adapting your workplace environment to your human needs.
If you’re spending all day seated at a desk with poor ergonomics, it can aggravate your spinal stenosis.
Other potential ergonomic risks include poor lifting techniques and sleeping on an uncomfortable mattress or in awkward positions.
Your physical therapist can help you identify what would work best for you.
Book Your Appointment With Capitol Physical Therapy Today
Are you experiencing tingling, numbness, or weakness in your arms or legs?
Is pain in your lower back or arms and legs impacting your daily life?
Has a health care provider suggested you might have osteoarthritis or a back injury?
Book your appointment with Capitol Physical Therapy today to get your assessment and start working towards a stronger, healthier spine.
1331 H St NW #200,
Washington, DC 20005
9560 Pennsylvania Ave. # 202,
Upper Marlboro, MD 20772
Capitol Physical Therapy offers orthopedic and other pain related solutions, with our versitile team of physical therapists in Washington, DC