Spinal Cord Compression: Causes, Symptoms, Diagonosis, Treatment, and Prevention

In this article, we will explore what spinal cord compression is, the 3 main causes, symptoms, treatment, preventions, and more such things.

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Is your back feeling tight? Do you often sit for extended periods of time either at home or in the office? Do you often experience back pain throughout the day? This could be due to spinal compression.

In the article, we’re going to discuss what spinal cord compression is and the 3 main causes of this condition.

We will also go over the symptoms, how it’s diagnosed, treatments commonly administered, and how to prevent it in the first place.

Causes, Symptoms, Prevention of Spinal Compression

What is The Spinal Cord? 

The spinal cord is described as a group of nerves in the shape of a cylinder that runs from the base of the spine in the lower back all the way up to the brain.

The purpose of the spinal cord is to carry messages or nerve signals from the brain to the rest of the body, such as the muscles or other intricately connected soft tissues. 

These messages are what allow you to feel sensations as well as move your body.

This also includes reflexes which are involuntary movements, as well as breathing, heart rate, bladder function, and bowel movements. 

The spinal cord is one of the most important parts of the body’s nervous system. Any kind of damage inflicted on the spinal cord can affect the function of the body and even cause neurological symptoms

What is Spinal Cord Compression? 

Spinal compression is defined as the external compression of the spinal cord. Essentially, any pressure that is applied to the spinal cord causing neurological issues is considered spinal compression.

This condition may develop gradually with deterioration of the vertebral column, or it can develop very suddenly, depending on the exact cause.

It can also happen anywhere from up high on the neck down in the lower back. 

The 3 Main Causes of Spinal Cord Compression 

There are many different things that may cause spinal cord compression, but in this case, we’re going to discuss the top 3 main reasons for spinal compression. 

#1 Osteoarthritis 

In the case of osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease, the protective cartilage of the joints that cushion the tops of the bones as well as the discs in the neck and lower back break down over a person’s lifetime and cause swelling and pain.

In some cases, this condition also creates spurs which can put pressure on the nerves of the spinal cord, causing weakness and pain in the limbs.

This is typically seen in older people above the age of 50 years, though it can be seen in people younger than 45 (typically men).

#2 Genetic Defects

This includes scoliosis, spinal tumors, genetic defects involving cartilage, and certain bone diseases.

These types of spinal compressions are more complicated to treat depending on the specific cause, but that doesn’t mean they’re not treatable.

There are several treatment options available depending on the diagnosis. 

#3 Injury To The Joint

This can happen in sports at roughly any age, or it can happen in your day-to-day life.

You could be lifting a heavy item at work that your body was not ready to handle, or you could have been involved in an accident on the road.

Spinal compression due to injury can happen at any point and time, and the cause can be as simple as improper body mechanics. 

If you would like to research more on how to decompress lower back, then check out this article that gives more details on spinal decompression at home. 

Symptoms Of Spinal Compression 

Spinal compression symptoms may happen suddenly or over a longer period of time.

What determines the pace of onset of symptoms will greatly depend on what has caused the condition.

If spinal compression was caused by an injury, you can expect the symptoms to take effect immediately, whereas normal erosion may delay symptoms for many years. 

Here are a few common symptoms of spinal compression: 

  • Neck and Back Pain and Stiffness
  • Pain That Burns and Reaches Down the Limbs or Buttocks 
  • Numbness, Weakness, or Cramping in the Hands or Limbs 
  • Numbness of the Feet 
  • Loss or Trouble with Coordination in Legs or Hands 
  • Weakness of a Foot Causing a Limp 

Some of the more significant symptoms also include: 

  • Incontinence 
  • Intense or Worsening Numbness Behind or Between Legs or Inner Thighs 
  • Intense Pain in the Legs Inhibiting One’s Ability to Walk 

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible, as it could be a sign of a very serious condition known as cauda equina syndrome.

This condition is caused by pressure on the lower back nerves and should be treated immediately. 

How Is It Diagnosed? 

To receive a diagnosis for spinal compression, you will be asked a series of questions by your primary care provider regarding your symptoms.

You will also be required to undergo a physical examination.

During the physical, they will be observing your movements to note any abnormalities in your reflexes, lack of physical perception of the limbs, or weakness.

Your provider may also order some tests to confirm the diagnosis, including a spine X-ray.

An X-ray will show any spurs that may have developed, which could be putting pressure on a spinal nerve. It will also show any irregular spinal alignment, if there is any.

Other tests your provider may order include Special imaging tests such as an MRI or a CT scan of the spine. 

Prevention for Spinal Compression

How is It Treated? 

Treatment for spinal compression will involve a lot of different medical professionals depending on what the cause is and many other factors such as your age, general health, and whether you have any other conditions.

This may require the involvement of arthritis specialists, nerve specialists, physical therapists, and possibly even bone surgeons. 

Additionally, your providers may also prescribe certain medicines, injections, physical therapy, or possibly surgery.

Though surgery is typically a last resort in an emergency or if your back was broken in an injury, it may be recommended immediately to prevent further trauma or even death. 

Here are a few common treatments for spinal compression: 

  • NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs)
  • High-Dose Steroids 
  • Radiation Therapy 
  • Physical Therapy
  • Surgery 
  • Acupuncture 

Can it Be Prevented? 

In some cases, the symptoms of spinal compression can be prevented, but if the cause is genetic, then there isn’t a lot that can be done.

Fortunately, spinal compression symptoms that are caused by deterioration over time can be prevented with regular exercise and proper dietary habits.

The goal is to keep your back muscles as well as the backbones strong for as long as possible. By strengthening your back muscles, it helps your spine remain pliable and not stiff. 

Another method of preventing the symptoms of spinal compression is to work on your posture and to be sure you are employing proper body mechanics when lifting heavy things.

Additional good body mechanics include sleeping on a mattress that is firm enough to support proper alignment and only sitting in ergonomically correct chairs that encourage that natural curve of your spine. 

Maintaining a healthy body weight is another preventative measure. More body weight means more pressure on your spine.

This can cause spinal compression symptoms to express themselves much sooner. And if you haven’t already, you should quit smoking and avoid all nicotine products. 

Conclusion 

The spinal cord is the bundle of nerves that run from the base of the spine up to the brain.

Spinal compression is the external compression of the spinal cord whether caused by osteoarthritis, a genetic defect, or an injury to the joint.

There are many symptoms, but the most concerning are incontinence, intense or worsening numbness behind or between legs or inner thighs, and intense pain and weakness in the legs inhibiting one’s ability to walk.

If you are experiencing any of these, seek immediate medical attention. 

To be diagnosed with spinal compression, your primary care provider will perform a physical on you and ask a series of questions.

They may also order additional testing such as X-rays, MRIs, or CT scans.

If diagnosed with this condition, you may be prescribed medication, physical therapy, injections, or possibly surgery.

Spinal compression symptoms due to osteoarthritis can be prevented with proper diet, exercise, posture, and other body mechanics.

Maintain a healthy body weight and don’t partake in cigarettes or other nicotine products. 

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