What is spinal narrowing?

Spinal narrowing, or stenosis, is a reduction of the space within the spinal canal, a hollow tunnel that serves as a protective sheath for the spinal cord and a series of nerve roots. Spinal narrowing can sometimes become problematic because the space within the spinal canal is limited. When this finite area is further restricted, sensitive nerves can potentially become pinched or compressed. In response to the excess pressure, a nerve may send pain signals to the brain. Nerve compression can also produce radiating pain, numbness and muscle weakness along the path of the affected nerve.

What causes the spinal canal to narrow?

Most often, spinal narrowing results from degenerative changes in the spine that occur along with the natural aging process. Specifically, some common causes of degenerative spinal narrowing include:

  • Disc herniation. Each spinal disc is made up of a soft inner core surrounded by a thick outer rim. If a disc ruptures, some of its gel-like inner material can seep out (herniate) into the spinal canal, which can contribute to spinal narrowing.
  • Osteophyte development. As the spinal discs break down and lose effectiveness as cushions for the spinal bones, excess bony deposits (bone spurs) can develop in response to the increased friction between vertebrae. These protective bone spurs can take up space within the spinal canal.
  • Vertebral slippage (spondylolisthesis). If a spinal joint is damaged through repetitive use or a direct blow, a vertebra may slip out of alignment and protrude into the spinal canal, creating a narrowing effect.
  • Ligament inflammation. Over time, the ligaments that support the spine may naturally thicken and calcify. Enlarged ligaments can encroach the spinal canal and lead to the compression of nerve tissue.

Treatment options

Treatment for spinal stenosis can vary based on the underlying cause of the narrowing. For instance, when swelling or inflammation is constricting the spinal canal, many people find it helpful to take over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) as needed. To further relieve discomfort, a physician may also recommend pain relievers, muscle relaxants, physical therapy, low-impact exercises and positive lifestyle changes, such as dietary improvements and weight loss.

While many individuals benefit from conservative treatment, it’s important to understand that these approaches cannot reverse spinal narrowing or prevent it from getting worse. Therefore, if nonsurgical options do not provide adequate relief, surgery may be recommended to address the underlying condition. But, this does not necessarily mean that a highly invasive procedure is the only path to relief.

Minimally invasive spine surgery

At Laser Spine Institute, our dedication to minimally invasive surgery has made us the leader.^ This advantage grows every week, leading to a higher level of expertise as our team helps thousands of patients get their lives back.

To find out if you’re a candidate for minimally invasive spinal narrowing surgery, contact Laser Spine Institute today.