What is a narrowing of the spine?

Spinal narrowing refers to the shrinking of space in the spinal canal that houses the spinal cord. This condition typically develops as part of the natural aging process and is most likely to occur in people who are 50 and older. However, in some cases, an injury to the neck or back can lead to premature spinal narrowing, also known as spinal stenosis. Rarely, a person may be born with an abnormally narrow spine.

Many people have spinal narrowing without ever knowing it because they don’t experience any symptoms. However, if the cramped space in the spinal canal leads to compression of the spinal cord or a nerve root by surrounding tissues, the symptoms can be quite painful and uncomfortable. Depending on where in the spine the nerve compression occurs, the results can be shooting pain, soreness, numbness, tingling sensations and muscle weakness in the neck or back where the spinal canal has narrowed, as well as radiating to the extremities.

How spinal narrowing is diagnosed

Spinal narrowing is an umbrella term that can encompass a variety of more specific spine conditions, including degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis and bone spurs. All of these conditions can lead to painful nerve compression. It’s important for your doctor to pinpoint the cause of your symptoms so that you can receive the most effective treatment plan possible. When you consult with your doctor, you should be prepared to:

  • Discuss your medical history
  • Provide a detailed description of your symptoms, including when they began
  • Undergo a physical exam

If you visit your family doctor, he or she may order diagnostic imaging tests, such as an MRI, or refer you to a spine specialist for additional evaluation. Once you receive a diagnosis, you’ll likely be provided with a conservative treatment plan that includes medications to reduce pain and inflammation and gentle stretching and bending exercises aimed at relieving the nerve compression in the part of your neck or back where the spinal canal has narrowed. If appropriate for your case, your doctor may also recommend some lifestyle changes, including losing weight, giving up tobacco use and participating in regular aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercises.

Conservative treatments have helped many people find the symptom relief they need to pursue an active, normal lifestyle in spite of their spinal narrowing. Others may diligently pursue a conservative treatment plan but find that their symptoms don’t improve or even get worse. In these situations, it may be time to consider minimally invasive outpatient surgery at Laser Spine Institute. Our minimally invasive procedures are performed using incisions of less than an inch and techniques that spare critical muscle tissue, and they have a lower risk of infection than traditional open neck or back surgery.^

Contact Laser Spine Institute today to learn more about the minimally invasive outpatient procedures we perform for patients with spinal narrowing. We’ll also be glad to tell you about our free MRI review,* which can help determine whether you’re a candidate for treatment at our surgery center.