What is the process for diagnosing spinal stenosis?

Diagnosing spinal stenosis should always involve a full evaluation conducted by your doctor. While many people may read about the symptoms of spinal stenosis and assume they have the condition, self-diagnosis can be tricky because spinal stenosis symptoms like numbness, weakness and tingling can resemble symptoms of other conditions. To learn about conditions related to spinal vertebrae and joints, visit our degenerative disc disease page.

Spinal stenosis is defined as a narrowing of either the spinal canal or the small spaces nerve roots use to exit the spine. This constriction can create painful compression on your spinal cord or the nerve roots. The most common cause is osteoarthritis — a condition that wears down the cartilage cushioning the joints in the spine. Read on for more information about the spinal stenosis diagnosis process and the treatments available to ease your symptoms and help you get back to your daily routine.

How spinal stenosis is diagnosed

If you are experiencing pain in your neck or back, reach out to your doctor immediately. Properly diagnosing spinal stenosis is the first step to getting effective treatment. When seeing your primary care doctor regarding a potential spinal stenosis diagnosis, you will generally start with a thorough medical history and physical exam performed by your doctor. Here you can describe your symptoms and how your life is being affected in order to get closer to the potential cause.

The primary way of reaching an exact diagnosis for spinal stenosis is with imaging tests. These can determine the location and extent of your nerve compression. Examples of imaging tests include:

  • X-ray — which is basic imaging that is able to detect some conditions on a broad level
  • MRI — which is a magnetic resonance imaging test that can provide a more detailed look at spinal stenosis
  • CT scan — which is a computer-assisted X-ray that can provide a cross-sectional view of the spine
  • Myelogram — which is a kind of imaging that uses dye to provide a high-contrast image, making conditions like spinal stenosis easier to detect

You can get your life back from spinal stenosis

Initial treatment options prescribed by a doctor may include over-the-counter medication to reduce pain and inflammation, as well as strengthening and stretching exercises. Visit our physical therapy for spinal stenosis page to read about this form of treatment. Surgery is usually not required for you to experience an easing of symptoms and a return to normal activity.

On occasion, several weeks and months of these treatments do not bring the expected results of reduced pain and increased mobility. If you have been recommended for surgery but have doubts regarding the risks involved with traditional open back surgery, there are other options available for lasting pain relief. For instance, Laser Spine Institute offers minimally invasive spine surgery, which is a safer and effective alternative to traditional open neck or back procedures.^

Our team of highly skilled surgeons can treat spinal stenosis by using a small incision and muscle-sparing techniques to perform a minimally invasive decompression or stabilization surgery. These procedures offer shorter recovery times^ and a better chance of regaining an active lifestyle. Contact our dedicated team with any questions or concerns you may have about our minimally invasive spine surgery.

Laser Spine Institute is the leader in minimally invasive spine surgery and has helped more than 75,000 patients find relief from chronic neck or back pain. Reach out to us today for a no-cost MRI review* and to find out if you are a candidate for our spinal stenosis surgery. We are here to get you back to the activities you love.

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