Inevitable changes occur in the body as we age. Hair turns gray. Wrinkles deepen. Reading glasses become a necessity. But did you know the spine also undergoes aging-related changes? You may have already experienced symptoms of a “graying” spine without realizing it.
“Degenerative lumbar spinal stenosis” is the medical term describing the gradual narrowing of the spinal canal as we age. Your spinal canal runs inside your spine from underneath your head down to your tail bone. The spinal cord passes through this canal to your lower back, where it continues as a bunch of nerves down to the tail bone. These nerves power the muscles in your legs, control bladder and bowel function and allow you to feel skin sensations.
Your spinal canal narrows with age for several reasons:
This narrowing occurs very slowly over time, but gradually puts pressure on the bunch of nerves passing through the lower part of your spinal canal. Prolonged standing and walking make the canal even narrower as it arches the canal backward in this position. The result is pain in the lower back and more commonly in the butt and legs. Sitting down or leaning forward opens up the canal and relieves the symptoms.
The aging process occurs so gradually you don’t notice at first. Go through the checklist below. The more checks you have, the more likely you’re experiencing degenerative lumbar spinal stenosis.
Most people in their seventies have spinal stenosis but not all may have symptoms. Those with mild symptoms often tolerate the pain for a long time before seeing a doctor. As the pain gradually gets worse over the years, there are a number of treatment options which include:
The good news is there are ways to alleviate the pain of spinal stenosis. Your doctor can provide written information on your options.