I am presently in San Antonio with our newest grandbaby, Nico Adrès Rodriguez!
As I try to educate our daughter on how to avoid too much pressure on her back while breastfeeding in a sitting position for long periods of time, trying to carry the car seat or trying to get her 3-year-old out of her car seat, I can't help but think of 2 common back diagnoses patients come in to discuss at our clinic. Patients are often devastated and afraid, wondering if they might become paralyzed when they hear the terms: degenerative disc disease and spinal stenosis!
Before discussing these 2 diagnoses, I would like to let everyone know that we ALL have degenerative disc disease. Our discs are approximately 90% water when we are young and can stay that way into our 20's and 30's. However, as we age, our discs begin to dehydrate and dry up. As a result, the space between our vertebrae decreases, and most of us get shorter because of this dehydration process. So, if you think you are getting shorter, not taking into account a possible bent-over posture, you are. This is not cause for alarm, since it happens most often to all of us without any symptoms.
As our discs dehydrate and our vertebrae get closer together, there is less room between the vertebrae. Therefore, if you have back pain and your physician looks at the X-Ray of your spine, the vertebrae will be compressed on top of one another. It looks like there isn't enough space for the nerves and, as a result, the diagnosis given to a patient may be spinal stenosis.
Here is where misunderstandings take place; most of us, by 70 years of age, have little to no fluid left in our discs and, from just an X-ray alone, the diagnosis of spinal stenosis seems quite evident. However, this diagnosis should be based on an examination more than on the appearance of the X-ray or MRI, as the dehydration process occurs, over time, in most of us.
If I haven't lost you yet, I would like to tell you that we see about 60-70 spinal stenosis diagnoses a year in our clinic. After examining, educating, and treating them, we usually can get 95% of these patients better. Therefore, even though they were diagnosed with spinal stenosis, which was based on their X-Ray and MRI alone, this was not actually, the cause of their pain. If it is a true spinal stenosis diagnosis, based on symptoms and an X-ray/MRI, many people may need surgery.
How might you know if spinal stenosis is the cause of your severe back and leg pain? A textbook spinal stenosis patient walks about 3-5 minutes, and then has severe pain down both legs, and must sit to relieve the pain. This person stands up after a few minutes and can walk another 3-5 minutes before the severe pain returns. Some people try to push themselves through the pain and begin to lose their leg strength and fall! These are the true symptoms of spinal stenosis.
Once again, try to avoid overreacting to a diagnosis like degenerative disc disease or spinal stenosis until you have been examined thoroughly. Do not let an X-ray or MRI be the determining factor for these often-overused diagnoses, which can be unnecessarily alarming.
As always, if you are unsure, please call and we will be glad to get you in and examine you. We do have the time needed to examine, treat, and/or direct you, if needed, to specialists who are exceptional at helping you improve your condition, whatever it may be!