Spotlight on Spinal Stenosis
Baseball has again put a spotlight on back pain. News broke in May that New York Mets third baseman David Wright, fresh off a hamstring injury, was experiencing lower back pain. Since an MRI showed no signs of structural damage, his doctors allowed him to return to practice after a couple weeks off. But just days later Wright’s fans were given the bad news—his back pain was actually the result of spinal stenosis, the same condition that sent the New York Giant’s David Wilson into retirement at 23 years old.
Now, many are asking: what is spinal stenosis and what can be done about it? First, think of your spinal canal as a long tube of bones that protects your spinal cord, which, along with your brain, makes up your body’s central nervous system. Over the years, additional tissue and bone grow around the canal, causing this protective tube and the spaces between vertebrae to narrow (though some people are simply born with stenosis that becomes problematic over time). The nerves within the canal or between vertebrae can be pinched and squeezed causing severe pain.
The two main types of stenosis are cervical (the neck region) and lumbar (the lower back area), which is the most common form of stenosis. Symptoms of cervical spinal stenosis usually appear somewhere in the region extending from your neck, shoulders, and upper back, down through your arms and hands, while lumbar symptoms usually appear somewhere in the region extending from your lower back and buttocks down through the backs of your legs and the soles of your feet. Severe stenosis can affect motor skills and even bladder and bowel functions.
In Wright’s case, lumbar spinal stenosis developed over time rather than being congenital (i.e. a condition present at birth), which experts say is a good thing. As of now, the severity of Wright’s stenosis is unknown, but he does hope to return to the field this season. Many sportscasters expect that he will perform back pain exercises and back stretches in physical therapy to increase the flexibility of his back, allowing for more pain-free movement.
If his pain continues, however, Wright may need to consider back surgery. Fortunately, there are minimally invasive options to treat spinal stenosis, including the family of minimally invasive procedures from North American Spine.