Spinal narrowing — definition

Spinal narrowing, also called spinal stenosis, is a reduction of the space available within the spinal column for the spinal cord or exiting nerve roots. Constricted space within the spine can be caused by traumatic injury, an inherited condition or, most frequently, deterioration of the spinal anatomy as part of the natural aging process.

A number of specific age-related spine conditions can contribute to spinal stenosis, including bone spurs, herniated discs, bulging discs, calcified ligaments, vertebral slippage (spondylolisthesis) and others. These conditions do not necessarily cause symptoms unless contact is made with the sensitive nerve roots or the spinal cord itself.

Symptoms and classifications of spinal narrowing

When spinal stenosis causes nerve compression or the irritation of the spinal cord or other nerves, local and radiating symptoms such as pain, tingling, numbness or weakness can develop. This can occur at any level of the spine, and the classification of spinal stenosis generally is based on its location, its cause or the part of the anatomy involved. A few common examples include:

  • Congenital stenosis — narrowing as a result of an inherited defective condition
  • Degenerative stenosis — narrowing as a result of an age-related condition such as osteoarthritis or degenerative disc disease
  • Foraminal stenosis — narrowing of the foramina, which are openings where the nerve roots exit the spinal canal
  • Lateral recess stenosis — narrowing within the tract where the nerve roots exit the spinal canal and thread toward the foramina
  • Central canal stenosis — narrowing within the central spinal canal, which houses the spinal cord and the horsetail-shaped bundle of nerves known as the cauda equina

Treatment for spinal narrowing

Exercise and stretching are two of the primary conservative methods of treatment recommended by doctors for treating spinal stenosis. The objective is to reduce pressure on the affected nerve by strengthening supporting muscles and improving mobility. Options like medication, hot/cold compression and spinal injections can also be effective in relieving painful episodes. Conservative treatment is very often effective for managing symptoms associated with spinal narrowing, but occasionally it’s not enough.

If chronic pain persists after several weeks of conservative treatment, surgery may become an option. If so, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn more about our minimally invasive outpatient spine surgery that can offer patients a shorter recovery time and less risk of complication compared to traditional open neck or back procedures.^

We can help you find out if you are a potential candidate for one of our procedures by providing a free MRI review.*