Understand your lumbar canal stenosis treatment options
If you suspect you have lumbar canal stenosis, you should research the causes and symptoms of this condition. Understanding what causes this condition to develop in your spine can help you have a more informed conversation with your doctor as you discuss the canal stenosis treatment options available to you.
Lumbar canal stenosis treatment is designed to relieve symptoms caused by nerve compression in the lumbar (lower) area of the spinal column. The spinal column protects the spinal cord and nerve roots contained in the central vertebral canal. As a person grows older, this canal can slowly narrow and may eventually compress the nerves that it is supposed to protect. This narrowing is often caused by normal spinal deterioration or injury-related conditions such as herniated discs, bulging discs, inflamed arthritic joints and bone spurs. Lumbar canal stenosis treatments vary widely depending on the severity and specific source of symptoms.
Conservative treatment options
Before beginning any course of canal stenosis treatment, it is extremely important to have a doctor diagnose the condition and identify the exact location of the problem. As the symptoms of canal stenosis stem from the compression of nerve tissue within the spinal canal, treating the condition is dependent on understanding the source of the compression.
In a very large number of cases, canal stenosis responds to nonsurgical treatment. Surgical intervention to decompress spinal nerves is usually only recommended in cases that have not responded to conservative treatments. While this approach typically doesn’t provide instantaneous relief, with the right combination of treatments, many patients find they can overcome pain, increase their spinal flexibility and manage their lumbar canal stenosis effectively.
However, while there are many different lumbar canal stenosis treatment options readily available, it is important to understand that not all treatments and approaches are right for each patient. Depending on your specific condition, your overall health and age, the location of your stenosis and other contributing factors, any number of methods may be recommended. The wrong style of treatment could prove to be a waste of time or potentially even worsen your symptoms.
Here are some examples of a few of the most popular treatment options available:
- Rest. There’s no denying that taking it easy for a few days can be helpful when you’re experiencing significant back pain. The caveat here is that prolonged periods of inactivity can actually make things worse. So while you might feel inclined to stay off your feet, be sure to speak with your doctor and determine how long it is appropriate to rest before spinal muscles start to weaken and your condition deteriorates.
- Heat and ice packs. One of the simplest canal stenosis treatment options is to use a heating pad or ice pack. The element of heat can be helpful because it soothes sore muscles, encourages healing, promotes circulation and relaxes muscle spasms. While ice packs can be used to numb the area and reduce inflammation.
- Epidural injections. Steroid injections are a proven effective means of relieving back pain for several weeks or months at a time. However, doctors will typically limit the number of epidural injections because they can weaken muscle tissue and the spinal infrastructure.
- Exercise. Low-impact exercise is an effective treatment option because it can help a patient shed excess body weight, reducing some of the strain placed on the spine. Furthermore, the right kind of exercise may also strengthen the muscles that support the back. However, it’s important to only participate in physician-approved exercises that are low impact in nature. Popular options include walking, swimming and stretching.
- Medications. Under the direction of a physician, the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, pain medication, muscle relaxants and other medication may be recommended to reduce inflammation and manage pain.
- Lifestyle changes. Often, a doctor will recommend lifestyle adjustments to complement the treatment process. Healthy dieting, avoiding activities that place excess strain on the spine, cutting down on alcohol consumption and quitting smoking are all common examples of adjustments that are often considered.
Many people also choose to rely on a variety of complementary or alternative methods to assist in the canal stenosis treatment process. Chiropractic therapy, deep tissue massage and acupuncture are all popular options that people have used for generations to manage back pain. However, it should be noted that many alternative medicines are somewhat controversial within the mainstream medical community and it is always advised that you consult your doctor before choosing to pursue a new treatment path.
When to consider canal stenosis surgery
While conservative treatment is often effective, spine surgery can become an option if other methods have been exhausted without delivering the results needed for a good quality of life. Conservative techniques tend to focus on symptom management, where the goal of surgery is direct relief of the compressed nerve.
At Laser Spine Institute, our surgeons specialize in state-of-the-art minimally invasive lumbar canal stenosis surgery to decompress spinal nerves. Unlike a traditional open spine surgery, which requires lengthy hospitalization and a difficult recovery period, the procedures performed at Laser Spine Institute are minimally invasive. Our surgeries require a small initial incision and muscle tissue is spared from excessive cutting, which limits collateral damage around the neck and back. This helps minimize post-surgical recovery time, reduces the risks for complication^ and allows our procedures to be performed on an outpatient basis.