Have you ever sneezed, but it’s one of those sneezes that seems to have come from your toes, and it’s big enough to make you almost fall backwards?
Have you ever coughed so hard your whole body aches? Never mind getting the cold or flu when the cough is 10 times worse?
So imagine these scenarios, but with a narrowing spinal column, aka, Lumbar Spinal Stenosis.
Lumbar spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower back, known as the lumbar area. This usually happens when bone or tissue-or both-grow in the openings in the spinal bones. This growth can squeeze and irritate nerves that branch out from the spinal cord .
Ok so you’ve probably never heard of it before (and neither had I till I was diagnosed with it!), but once you understand it, it starts to make your pain and symptoms come to light, everything starts to make sense.
The term “stenosis” comes from the Greek work meaning “choking”.
For all of us, as we get older, our spines will change. These changes often mean degeneration of the vertebrae, discs, muscles and even the ligaments, all of which make up your spinal column.
So having spinal stenosis, in my case, in my lumbar spine (my lower back part of the spine), means that my spine is, narrow at the lower part of my back. Where my spinal cord, vertebrae, nerves and everything else runs through to reach my limbs, there is a lot less space there, than say at the top of my spine – I guess you would say my nerves are being “choked”.
Because there is less space, this leads to other problems. The pain in your back will fluctuate, depending on what you are doing. For example, walking may start off ok, but then the pain will increase and more likely spread down your leg(s), causing weakness, tingling and even numbness. In this situation, the only relief can be to sit down. You may even have the pain of sciatica too.
Generally, the cause of Spinal Stenosis is often associated with aging, (with the general age range around 50 years old), although rare, it is possible for you to develop Spinal Stenosis at a younger age (like me!) and causes can be due to curvature of the spine or even if you have suffered an injury to your spine. But as you get older, your facet joints (there’s a post coming about these too!) will get larger, and as they get larger, they degenerate and compress your spinal nerves, which in turn produces the painful symptoms, and more so when you are active.
So what have I noticed about this condition? As I said above, walking will more than likely produce pain, and when I’m trying to walk with numb/tingling legs, its quite scary, especially not knowing if the next step is going to be the one I fall to the ground with. But just as sitting can relieve the pain, sitting for an extended period of time is also painful, and for me the waves of tingling and numbness come back with force. So you stand up, but then standing for too long is also so painful. When you are standing upright for an extended period of time, the space in your spine decreases and will block the flow of blood from the nerves, making the nerves irritated and angry, causing pain.
So as you will imagine, I always feel like a yo-yo. I walk, but I get sore so I sit down. I get pain from sitting down, so I stand up. Then I get sore from standing so I sit down…..and so the vicious circle goes on.
So lets go back to sneezing and coughing. Its painful. Bloody painful. Every time I sneeze or cough, my spinal cord is even more compressed. And for one sneeze or cough, that’s a lot of pain to go through! You will often see me brace myself if I feel that sneeze coming on, because as soon as I sneeze, the pain goes straight down my legs. As soon as I cough, the pain shoots down my legs. So add in the cold/flu and the pain is only intensified.
For a long time, I always wondered why I had such bad pain, and of course I do have a lot of other contributing factors, but researching the condition when I was first diagnosed, everything made a lot of sense to me. It justified the pain I have and the pain I have on a daily basis.
It is a condition that I have learned to deal with and also adapt my life around, but it still doesn’t make it any easier. Over time, my Stenosis is likely to get worse, so for the moment I will have to manage it as best I can and deal with the situation as it progresses.
Here are some handy links for more information: