What causes lateral recess stenosis?

Lateral recess stenosis usually occurs when excess tissue causes the rear side of the spinal canal (the lateral recess) to become narrower. This tube-like structure provides a dedicated corridor for nerve roots to pass through as they exit the spinal cord on their way to other areas of the body.

Because the lateral recess is specifically designed for housing nerve roots, it can accommodate a certain amount of narrowing before the nerve tissue within it will be affected. Therefore, stenosis is not always problematic. However, if a nerve root becomes pressured to the point that it cannot function properly, painful symptoms can develop anywhere along its path.

Common causes of lateral recess stenosis

Some people are born with a naturally narrow spinal canal. In most cases, however, lateral recess stenosis develops when something specific causes open spaces around nerve roots to become narrower. This effect can usually be attributed to degeneration and other changes in the spinal anatomy, such as:

  • Bone spurs. Over time, general wear and tear on the spinal bones and joints (osteoarthritis) can result in the formation of protective bony deposits (osteophytes), which can potentially invade the lateral recess.
  • Damaged discs. The soft cushions that serve as shock absorbers between vertebrae tend to dry out and become brittle with age. A degenerated disc can bulge out of position or a tear in its outer border can allow some of the disc’s inner gel-like material to seep into the lateral recess.
  • Thickened ligaments. The bands of fibrous tissue that connect and support the spinal bones can become stiff and thicken with overuse, eventually taking up more space in the spinal column.
  • Misaligned vertebrae. Car accidents and other traumatic incidents can cause vertebral fractures that lead to displaced bone in the spinal canal. Vertebrae can also become misaligned and press on nerve roots when the discs that support them degenerate and lose height.

How is lateral recess stenosis treated?

Many people find nonsurgical remedies to be effective for relieving lateral recess stenosis symptoms. However, it’s important to understand that conservative therapy cannot treat the underlying causes of lateral recess stenosis — only surgery can do that. Therefore, if symptoms continue to worsen, surgery may be appropriate to address the narrowing at its source.

The surgeons at Laser Spine Institute perform minimally invasive outpatient procedures that can potentially provide the relief you need. Our minimally invasive surgery is a safer and effective alternative to traditional open spine surgery.^ Contact us to request a free MRI review.* Our team can explain your options and help you determine if you are a candidate for our minimally invasive surgery.

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