Overview of lateral recess stenosis
Lateral recess stenosis is a common spine condition that is characterized by a narrowing of the space within the rear sides of the spinal canal. This specific compartment, known as the lateral recess, serves as an important passageway for nerve roots to branch away from the spinal cord and carry motor and sensory signals to other areas of the body. As this already limited space grows narrower, the potential for painful nerve root compression increases.
Spinal nerve compression can sometimes lead to neck or back pain and other discomfort that interferes with daily activities and quality of life. The key to finding meaningful relief is an early and accurate diagnosis. After diagnosing lateral recess stenosis and pinpointing its underlying cause, a physician can recommend an appropriate treatment plan.
Symptoms of lateral recess stenosis
When a spinal nerve root becomes irritated, pinched or compressed due to lateral recess stenosis, a number of uncomfortable symptoms can develop. Depending on the specific nerve root affected, the associated discomfort can take the form of:
- Neck or back pain that progresses gradually
- Pain that radiates from the neck down one arm
- Pain that radiates from the lower back down one leg
- Arm or leg muscle weakness
- Leg cramps
- Numbness, heaviness, burning or tingling sensations in an arm or leg
- A stiff neck
Where the symptoms are felt depends on the location of the compressed nerve root. Lateral recess stenosis can be classified into three basic types — left, right and bilateral recess stenosis. Left lateral recess stenosis means a nerve root on the left side of the spine is compressed, causing symptoms on the left side of the body (the left arm or leg, for example). Right lateral recess stenosis will affect the right side of the body, and bilateral recess stenosis can lead to symptoms on both sides of the body.
Diagnosis of lateral recess stenosis
To confirm or rule out a diagnosis of lateral recess stenosis, a physician will typically review a patient’s medical history, perform a physical examination, discuss the symptoms and order one or more imaging studies, such as an X-ray, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or computed tomography (CT) scan. An important step in finalizing a diagnosis is identifying the specific cause of the narrowing.
Causes of lateral recess stenosis
In most cases, lateral recess stenosis is an effect of a secondary degenerative spine condition, such as:
- A bulging or herniated disc
- Degenerative disc disease
- An enlarged facet joint
- Facet syndrome
- A thickened spinal ligament
- A misaligned vertebra (spondylolisthesis)
- A bone spur
- Spinal inflammation (osteoarthritis)
Treatment of lateral recess stenosis
If there is minimal nerve involvement or the resulting symptoms are relatively mild and tolerable, lateral recess stenosis can usually be treated conservatively. To get started, a physician may recommend one or more nonsurgical therapies, such as:
- Activity modifications — to avoid any movements that involve bending or twisting the spine
- Physical therapy — including specific stretches and exercises designed to increase flexibility, strength and circulation
- Postural improvement — to properly align the spinal column and reduce pressure on the neck and back
- A heating pad or ice pack — applied directly to a painful area as needed
- Over-the-counter and prescription medications — to relieve pain and reduce inflammation
- A brace — to help support the spine during painful episodes
To address symptoms that persist or worsen after several weeks or months of conservative treatment, a surgical procedure may be an appropriate next step. For instance, a surgeon may be able to decompress an affected nerve by performing a laminectomy to create additional space within the lateral recess. More specifically, this surgical procedure involves the removal of a vertebral bone known as the lamina.
If you’re interested in exploring your surgical treatment options for lateral recess stenosis, contact Laser Spine Institute. Our team can tell you about the benefits of our minimally invasive outpatient surgery, which is a safer and effective alternative to a highly invasive open neck or back procedure.^ We can also provide you with a free MRI review* to help you determine if you are a candidate for our minimally invasive surgery.