News | Published July 5, 2012 | Written by Jennifer Gilbert, DO

Spinal stenosis a treatable back issue

Back pain can interfere with our daily life -- going to the grocery store, playing with grandchildren, going for a walk. When it comes to back pain, it helps to know the cause in order to develop the proper treatment plan to relieve pain.

Many people older than 60 could be experiencing back pain from spinal stenosis, which is a narrowing of the spine from arthritis, disc herniation or ligament overgrowth.

Spinal stenosis can develop over time or it can be congenital. Some people are born with very short vertebrae segments.

The symptoms of spinal stenosis are pain and numbness in the lower back; weakness when standing; and pain when leaning backward or walking. Flexing forward or sitting down tends to relieve the pain.

The diagnosis for spinal stenosis involves testing. The first one, to rule out vascular problems to the legs, is accomplished in the vascular lab through ultrasound diagnostic testing. A magnetic resonance image or a computerized tomography scan rules out disc alignment problems. These tests are done at an imaging center and at Mount Nittany Medical Center. Nerve conduction studies can help determine problems with nerves.

The pain associated with stenosis comes from direct compression of the spinal column, which creates a loss of blood flow to the nerves.

Treatment for spinal stenosis involves a series of options, alone or in combination, depending upon the diagnosis: physical therapy; anti-inflammatory medicines and other medications; epidural steroid injections; and possibly surgery.

Bed rest is not recommended as a treatment for spinal stenosis. Physical movement instead is an effective antidote for the pain. Patients can often find relief through various aquatic activities such as water aerobics and recreational swimming. Bicycling also is therapeutic.

The course of the disease is fairly stable and benign, and the patient can usually return to work and to a normal life. A person who is having trouble with back pain should consult a physician. An array of therapies is available to ease that pain.
ennifer Gilbert is a physician at the Pain Management Clinic on University Drive. For more information, visit