Spinal stenosis diagnosis techniques

By Michael Perry, M.D.

Making a spinal stenosis diagnosis can be difficult because the symptoms can resemble those of other conditions, like a muscle strain for example. This is why more advanced diagnosis techniques can often be required to find the exact cause and location of symptoms and even then, there can be some trial and error involved.

Spinal stenosis, or narrowing of the spinal canal or nerve root exits, can have many causes, from degenerative disc disease to spinal osteoarthritis. Symptoms are caused when this narrowing puts pressure on a nerve in the spine, which can result in both local and radiating pain. This is why symptoms can be mistaken for other conditions and why getting a diagnosis from a medical professional is so important.

Spinal stenosis symptoms

Nerve compression related to stenosis can cause a range of painful symptoms both locally and throughout the body. This is because pressure on a nerve interferes with the transmission of sensory and motor signals between the brain and the rest of the body. For example, spinal stenosis in the lumbar (lower) region of the spine can result in symptoms in the buttocks, hips, legs and feet. Similarly, stenosis in the cervical (upper) spine affects the shoulders and arms in addition to the neck. Location of symptoms is one of the clues a doctor uses to reach a spinal stenosis diagnosis.

Symptoms of spinal stenosis experienced by patients can include:

  • Inflammation
  • Tingling and numbness in the upper or lower limbs
  • Muscle spasms
  • Joint or muscle stiffness
  • Discomfort when leaning backward

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, talk with your health care provider. He or she will be able to make a proper spinal stenosis diagnosis by reviewing details about your symptoms and performing a physical exam.

Spinal stenosis diagnosis

In addition to a review of medical history and a basic physical examination, doctors can use certain tests to confirm your diagnosis. These may include:

  • X-rays to look for signs of an injury, tumor or genetic abnormality
  • MRI to provide a 3-D view of your back and can detect damage to your discs and ligaments
  • CT scan to show the size and shape of your spinal canal
  • Myelogram to detect herniated discs, bone spurs or tumors by using a contrast dye is injected into the spinal column

If your physician confirms that you have spinal stenosis, you may be prescribed a course of conservative treatments like pain medication, massage, light exercise and physical therapy. To learn more about treatment options, visit our spinal stenosis treatments page.

Surgery can become an option if weeks or months of treatment do not bring relief and a return to everyday activities. Laser Spine Institute offers an alternative to traditional open spine procedures with minimally invasive outpatient spine surgery that uses a less than 1-inch incision to access the spine, resulting in a shorter recovery period^ for our patients.

Contact Laser Spine Institute today for a no-cost MRI review* to find out if you’re a candidate for our minimally invasive procedures.

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