Narrowing of the spinal canal

By Michael Perry, M.D.

Narrowing of the spinal canal, or canal stenosis, can be caused by many factors. These include a congenital condition, traumatic injury or frequently, age-related deterioration of the spinal anatomy. Over time, parts of the spine are subjected to significant wear because of a wide range of movement, including bending, turning and twisting. This leads to conditions like herniated discs or arthritic bone spurs that can narrow the already tight canal that the spinal cord travels through.

This narrowing can lead to nerve compression and resulting symptoms like pain, tingling and numbness that can be severely disruptive to your life. If you or someone you know is suffering from chronic symptoms related to narrowing of the spinal canal, learning about the causes and treatments for this condition can be an important step in getting the help needed for lasting relief.

Narrowing of the spinal canal and related anatomy

For a better understanding of how spinal stenosis is caused, especially in the spinal canal, it can be helpful to get an overview of spinal anatomy. The spine is a stack of bones, called vertebrae, which are connected to support the upper body and head while enabling movement like bending and flexing. Each individual vertebra has an arch extending from the back that forms a canal for the spinal cord when the vertebrae are stacked vertically. With time, the combination of weight and movement can cause parts of the spine, especially moving parts like the joints and discs, to become displaced and constrict the spinal canal.

Here are some of the main parts of the spinal column that can be involved with narrowing:

  • Spinal discs are spongy cushions between vertebrae, made up of a softer center and a fibrous outer wall
  • Facet joints are points where vertebrae meet and articulate
  • Pedicles are two thick projections off the main vertebral body to connect to the vertebral arch
  • Laminae are thin plates that extend off the pedicles and form part of the vertebral arch
  • Ligaments are fibrous tissues that connect bone to bone

Treatment for narrowing of the spinal canal

The objective of treating spinal stenosis is to reduce pressure on the spinal cord or affected nerve roots. Upon diagnosis, many patients can find relief by following a doctor-prescribed course of conservative treatment. Options usually include medication, physical therapy, rest and lifestyle changes like quitting smoking or improving nutrition.

However, if chronic symptoms persist after several weeks of conservative treatment, surgery may become an option. At Laser Spine Institute our minimally invasive outpatient spine surgery offers a shorter recovery time^ and less risk of complication than traditional open spine procedures. Since 2005 we have helped more than 75,000 patients find lasting relief from neck and back pain.

To learn more contact Laser Spine Institute today. We offer a no-cost MRI review* so you can find out if you may be a candidate for one of our minimally invasive procedures.