What you need to know about canal stenosis

Canal stenosis occurs when the already limited space within the spinal canal, which houses the spinal cord and a series of nerve roots, becomes even narrower. This effect can be traced to a number of underlying causes, such as a bulging disc, inflamed ligament or bone spur. Often, spinal narrowing is associated with age-related degeneration. Because the spine supports most of the body’s weight, the stress of everyday activities like walking, standing, bending and lifting can take a significant toll on its health and stability over time.

Canal stenosis does not usually cause discomfort unless the spinal cord or a nerve root is pressured by displaced tissue. Depending on the location of the nerve compression, symptoms may be felt in the lower back, legs, neck, shoulders or arms. Initially, the discomfort may be mild, but it can gradually worsen in intensity.

Managing canal stenosis pain

If you’re experiencing pain associated with canal stenosis, you may have already found some simple ways to cope, such as taking frequent breaks from walking or leaning forward over a cart while you shop. Additionally, you might try:

  • Physician-approved exercise. While regular physical activity is important for everyone, it can be especially beneficial for people who have been diagnosed with canal stenosis. If appropriate, you can start slowly with some simple flexion-based movements. Then, as you increase your muscle strength and endurance, you might add some walking or swimming to your routine (if your physician approves).
  • Activity modification. Think about the timing of your painful episodes and whether they could be related to your daily tasks. For instance, if your pain is associated with long periods of sitting, standing or walking, you may find it helpful to take breaks to stretch whenever possible.
  • Medication. Several types of pain relievers and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are readily available over the counter. When taken as needed (and as instructed by your physician), these options can be very effective for alleviating canal stenosis discomfort. Your physician may also prescribe stronger medications to help you through bouts of pain that are particularly intense.

Canal stenosis surgery

Because it can take some time to see the effects of nonsurgical therapies (approximately four to six weeks at minimum), you may need to be both patient and persistent with your treatment. However, if your discomfort worsens or begins to affect your everyday life, your physician might recommend a surgical procedure. The goal of canal stenosis surgery is to alleviate symptoms by directly addressing the cause of the nerve compression.

For many people who elect surgery, an open neck or back procedure is not the only avenue to relief. The surgeons at Laser Spine Institute perform minimally invasive outpatient procedures that are safer and effective alternatives to traditional open spine surgery.^

You may be a candidate for minimally invasive canal stenosis surgery. Contact us, and we’ll help you select the right option for you.