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As Baby Boomers Age Spinal Stenosis Becomes An Emerging Health Issue
Story Number is : 112717101

Few people appreciate the usefulness of their spine until it can no longer function properly. The spine is essential to daily normal functioning, enabling someone to stand, walk and carry out daily tasks. It is comprised of 33 bones which not only support the entire body allowing us to remain erect and walk and carry objects but at least as importantly, the core or spinal canal houses the spinal cord which carries all the nerves between the brain and the entire body. The spine can become a hindrance when spinal stenosis occurs. Spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the spinal canal.

“Spinal stenosis can occur at any point on a person’s spine, but the most common areas are the cervical (upper) and lumbar (lower) areas of the spine,” Westchester Neurosurgeon, Ezriel Kornel, MD, states. “Individuals can be born with spinal stenosis, but the majority of us get it as a part of the aging process,” says Dr, Kornel. “A person is at the greatest risk of developing spinal stenosis after 50 years of age. Those who do acquire the condition may experience a significant change in their quality of life.” When stenosis occurs in the cervical spine it can cause compression of the spinal cord. This can lead to weakness in the hands and difficulty coordinating walking and can ultimately lead to paralysis. Lumbar stenosis will cause compression to nerves running in that portion of the spine. These nerves are referred to as the cauda equine (horse’s tail in Latin) and compression of the cauda equine can lead to pain, numbness and weakness in the legs and when severe with problems with bowel and bladder control and erectile dysfunction. Cervical stenosis often leads to neck pain and lumbar stenosis often leads to severe back pain.

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), the number of Americans with spinal stenosis in the lumbar area is expected to grow over the next five years as the Baby Boomers age. The Academy estimates that 2.4 million Americans will be affected by lumbar spinal stenosis by 2021.

“The development of spinal stenosis is typically a very slow process, which is why many individuals do not notice its effect until months later,” Dr. Kornel adds.“The symptoms can be so subtle that the patients typically don’t see themselves being limited,” he says. “They tend to limit themselves because of the pain, but not until later do they realize their functional activities have decreased. Over time, they have stopped doing their normal activities such as going to church or the supermarket.”
The most common symptoms of spinal stenosis include pain in the neck and back; numbness, weakness, cramping or pain in the arms or legs. Rarely spinal stenosis can occur suddenly, usually when a large portion of a disc, the cushion between the vertebrae herniates into the spinal canal. When this occurs in the lumbar spine it can lead to a relatively rare but serious condition called “cauda equina syndrome.” It leads to serious symptoms such difficulty walking, loss of control of the bowel or bladder and pain and numbness down the legs and in the genital region. When a sudden large disc herniation occurs in the cervical spine it can lead to quadraparesis or paralysis of all the limbs.

Dr. Kornel, indicates that “spinal stenosis can be treated in three different ways depending on the severity of the symptoms. The first approach is conservative and involves physical therapy and chiropractic management. The second approach involves more invasive therapies such as spinal injections and epidural steroids. The last line of treatment would include surgery, where a surgeon would open up the areas where the spinal cord and nerve roots are being compressed. This is done by removing elements that narrow the canal such as bone, ligament and disc, widening the spinal canal to allow the nerves and spinal cord to move freely without being compressed. This can now be performed very safely with minimally invasive surgery limiting trauma to surrounding tissue and minimizing blood loss.”

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