What is spinal stenosis?

Spinal stenosis is a degenerative spine condition in which the spinal canal becomes narrower and may apply pressure on spinal nerve roots or the spinal cord. The condition is related to the aging process, and like the effects of aging in other areas of the body, spinal stenosis usually begins gradually and progresses over time.

Many people fail to notice the symptoms of spinal stenosis or attribute them to “getting older” until symptoms become more severe. However, if left untreated, the pain of spinal stenosis can often become almost unbearable. Eventually, pain is joined by numbness, weakness and loss of function.

What are the symptoms of spinal stenosis?

Spinal stenosis is a compressive disorder, which means that it causes chronic pain and other symptoms by compressing nerve roots and/or the spinal cord. The symptoms of spinal stenosis vary based on which part or parts of the spine are affected. For example, if spinal stenosis is in the cervical (neck) region, you might experience:

  • Pain weakness, numbness, or tingling in the shoulders, arms, and hands
  • Pain in the neck or shoulders
  • Trouble holding onto things
  • Difficulty walking if the spinal cord is compressed

If spinal stenosis is in the lumbar (lower back) region, nerve compression may cause pain or cramping while walking or with prolonged standing. Spinal stenosis in a different lumbar region may also cause limping while walking due to pain or muscle weakness. It must be noted that not all areas may be compress uniformly. One nerve may be compressed to a greater degree than another, resulting in a variability of symptoms in different areas or different sides of the body.

How is it diagnosed and treated?

If you suspect that your neck or back pain is caused by spinal stenosis, see your physician for testing and proper diagnosis. Spinal stenosis may be mimicked by or exist in conjunction with other conditions, such as herniated discs, arthritis of the spine or bulging discs. Your physician will be able to order tests to help rule out other conditions and help you discover whether spinal stenosis is the cause of your pain. Diagnostic tests ordered may include an MRI, an X-ray or CT scan.

If you are diagnosed with spinal stenosis, you and your physician likely will work together to develop a treatment and pain management plan. Treatment options can include improving your posture while walking or standing, exercises and stretches to help create more space in the spinal region, rest, medications or in severe cases, surgery.

Most patients who experience spinal stenosis symptoms can achieve relief with conservative treatments such as physical therapy, prescription or over-the-counter pain medication, cortisone injections, gentle stretching, low-impact exercise and heat therapy. It’s always important to consult with your physician before starting any kind of treatment.

However, not all patients will find relief through these conservative therapies. If your pain from spinal stenosis worsens or becomes chronic, spinal surgery may be prescribed. If this is the case, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn about our minimally invasive spine surgery. Our minimally invasive decompression, and in severe cases, stabilization procedures, are performed on an outpatient basis and are a safer and effective^ alternative to traditional open spine surgery. Contact us today to learn more and for a review of your MRI report or CT scan.