Spinal Narrowing – It’s More Common than You Might Think | BEST

Spinal narrowing, or spinal stenosis, is a term that describes loss of space in the spinal column. In particular, spinal narrowing often results in constriction or compression of the already tight pathways that spinal nerves travel through on their way out of the body from the brain. This is why for many people diagnosed with spinal narrowing, symptoms can range from mild to severe and debilitating. 

However, if you do have this condition, you are not alone. Spinal narrowing is actually extremely common, and fortunately, there are a wide range of effective treatment options. One way to better understand this condition and how to successfully find relief from symptoms, is to learn more about the many reasons this condition is so common. Take some time to read the following informative article and please reach out to BEST Health System with any related questions. 

Spinal narrowing might sound like a frightening term, but it is typically the result of natural and slowly developing changes that happen to us all as we get older. Specifically, as we age, cells throughout the body begin to dry out. In the spine, this can cause connective tissue and the discs that cushion the vertebrae to become brittle and less flexible. 

Among other effects, this can cause spinal anatomy to become compressed and narrow the pathways that the spinal cord or nerves in the spine travel through. If the narrowing becomes severe enough, it can cause pain and other symptoms, usually as a result of compression of the spinal nerves. 

2. Common Lifestyle Factors can also Contribute to Spinal Narrowing

While age-related degeneration is the overwhelming contributor to spinal narrowing and other conditions, many common activities and lifestyle factors increase stress on the spine. This also tends to increase the risk of spinal narrowing. For example, poor posture causes weight to be unevenly distributed across the spinal anatomy, which can make certain joints and discs wear out faster than others and narrow the spinal column. 

Another major risk factor for spinal narrowing is being overweight or obese, as extra weight increases the alreadt significant pressure on the spine. As more and more Americans have a sedentary lifestyle, it is increasing the risk of the development of spinal narrowing and other degenerative spine conditions. 

3. Spinal Narrowing can Develop at Any Level of the Spine – Especially the Cervical and Lumbar Spine

The spinal column consists of 24 vertebrae or 33 including the fused immobile vertebrae at the base of the spine. The 24 primary vertebrae are divided into three sections:

  • Cervical spine – These are the first seven vertebrae, labeled C1-C7, that make up the upper spine in the neck. 
  • Thoracic spine – The middle vertebrae, labeled T1-T12, are fixed to the ribcage and therefore not very flexible. 
  • Lumbar spine – The bottom five vertebrae are in the lumbar spine and are labeled L1-L5. These are the largest vertebrae and are responsible for supporting the full weight of the upper body.

Spinal narrowing can develop at any of these levels, but are most common in the cervical spine and lumbar spine. This is due to the flexibility they can handle, as well as their need to support more weight. Spinal narrowing in the cervical spine happens so often because these relatively delicate vertebrae must support the weight of the head while facilitating a full range of motion. 

4. Different Forms of Spinal Narrowing Can Affect the Spinal Cord or Nerves in Different Ways

There are actually multiple forms of spinal narrowing or stenosis. These include spinal canal stenosis and foraminal stenosis.  Spinal cord stenosis is spinal narrowing of the central canal of the spinal column that protects the spinal cord. This canal is formed by the arches that form off the back of each vertebral body, which together form a tunnel. As the nerve roots exit the spinal cord, foramina, which serve as exits as they travel to the body, narrow into foraminal stenosis. 

5. Spinal Narrowing is Related to a Wide Variety of Conditions and Injuries Affecting the Spinal Column

Many patients are surprised to learn that spinal narrowing can be caused by a large number of spine conditions that are more commonly known. Basically, as the individual spinal components break down or become injured, it can lead to displacement which is the actual source of narrowing in the spinal column. 

This is how spinal narrowing can be caused by conditions including:

  • Bulging discs
  • Herniated discs
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Spinal osteoarthritis
  • Bone spurs
  • Spondylolisthesis

6. It’s Possible to Have Spinal Narrowing Without Experiencing Symptoms

Spinal narrowing can happen to varying degrees and it’s possible to develop it, even in multiple places without it becoming painful. This is because displaced spinal anatomy that results in narrowing is often only noticeable if it puts pressure on the spinal cord or nerves in the spinal column. Sometimes patients will receive an incidental diagnosis of spinal narrowing when an MRI or other type of imagery is looking at a different part of the body. 

Even in cases when this happens, it is still important to take spinal narrowing treatment seriously. This is due to the fact that spine conditions are progressive in nature, meaning they can become worse over time without proper management. 

BEST Health System

If you are interested in learning more about spinal narrowing and the surgical options available through BEST, contact our team today. It’s time to take the first step towards recovery. The BEST is yet to come.