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Spine Surgery Guide

Aging and Back Pain Treatment

What happens when we age?

For many of us, several things begin to happen to our spines as we age. Our vertebrae begin to thicken and our discs start to lose moisture and shape. As a result, the spinal canal becomes narrower, putting pressure on the spinal cord and nerve endings and causing pain, numbness, or weakness in the body. This condition is called spinal stenosis. While stenosis can affect people in their 20s and 30s, it is most commonly seen in older patients. Spinal stenosis is a degenerative condition, meaning the symptoms tend to be progressive, increasing in severity as the patient ages.

Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis can occur in all areas of the spine, but occurs most often in the lumbar (lower back) and cervical (neck) areas. Patients with lumbar spinal stenosis may feel pain, weakness, or numbness in the legs, calves, or buttocks. Symptoms often increase when walking short distances and decrease when sitting, bending forward, or lying down. Cervical spinal stenosis has similar symptoms in the shoulders, arms, and legs, and may also include hand clumsiness and gait and balance disturbances.

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Treatment Options for Spinal Stenosis

The good news is that nearly 90 percent of spinal stenosis cases are successfully treated without surgery. Non-surgical treatment options most commonly used for patients with stenosis include the following:

• Medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce swelling and pain, and analgesics to relieve pain. • Corticosteroid injections (epidural steroids) to reduce swelling and treat acute pain. • Rest or restricted activity (this may vary depending on extent of nerve involvement). • Physical therapy and stretching and strengthening exercise to help stabilize the spine, restore mobility, and increase flexibility.

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Severe cases of spinal stenosis may require surgery. However, surgery should not be considered unless several months of non-surgical treatments have been tried. The most common surgery used to treat stenosis is called decompressive laminectomy in which the laminae (bony plates located on the back of the vertebra) are removed to create more space in the spinal canal. Don't Ignore Back Pain

With all of the treatment options available today, it's no longer necessary to accept back pain as a normal part of the aging process. Back pain, especially if it continues to get worse, includes bowel and bladder difficulties, or prevents you from participating in your everyday activities, should not be ignored. Talk to your physician or see a spine specialist. They will help you find a treatment plan that can return you to your pain-free life once more.
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This information is not designed to replace a physician's independent judgment about the appropriateness or risks of a procedure for a given patient.
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