Spinal stenosis refers to the overall narrowing of the spinal canal. Some people are born with an abnormally narrow canal, though the majority of spinal stenosis cases affect individuals over 50 and are due to degenerative changes in the spinal anatomy.
A long, protective column of vertebrae and intervertebral discs encase the spinal cord, so you can imagine that if any of these components shifts, erodes, or becomes enlarged, the canal’s circumference would be reduced. However, it is not the narrowing itself that makes spinal stenosis painful; rather, it is only when the narrowed spinal canal infringes on the spinal nerves that painful symptoms ensue.
There are a variety of degenerative spine conditions that can contribute to spinal stenosis, including:
- Osteoarthritis – When it affects the spine, this condition involves the gradual breakdown of facet joint cartilage, which can lead to vertebra-on-vertebra friction and bone spurs.
- Osteoporosis – The gradual loss of vertebral bone density can cause spondylolisthesis, which is when one vertebra slips anteriorly or laterally over the vertebra beneath it.
- Degenerative disc disease – As the cartilaginous outer wall of an intervertebral disc loses water content and elasticity, a herniated disc or a bulging disc can develop.
- Osteopetrosis – A very rare disease that involves the gradual thickening and enlargement of bones due to a defect in the body’s osteoblastic and absorption processes.
Conservative Treatments for Spinal Stenosis
The majority of people who suffer from spinal stenosis can manage their symptoms with conservative methods. Work with your physician to design a plan of stretching, hot therapy, cold therapy, low-impact exercise, and pain medication. If, after several weeks, you see no discernible change in your stenosis pain, you may decide to try more targeted treatment methods, such as epidural steroid injections, TENS electric therapy, radiofrequency stimulation, or pain patches. For a small percentage of the population, non-operative treatments will not prove effective. If this is the case, contact Laser Spine Institute. Our expert orthopedic surgeons are intensively trained in minimally invasive, endoscopic techniques that can help you rediscover your life without back or neck pain.