Spinal Stenosis: Non-operative Treatment
Can spinal stenosis be treated without surgery?
Yes. In fact, less than 5% of patients with a spinal disorder ever require spine surgery.
What types of non-surgical treatments are available?
There are several non-surgical options your doctor may recommend to treat your spinal stenosis. Often, treatment combines more than one type of therapy. For example, medication may be combined with physical therapy. Let's review a few of the non-surgical therapies one by one.
- Medication: There is a wide variety of medications available to relieve inflammation, pain, and muscle spasm. Although some drugs are available over-the-counter (OTC), it is wise not to combine these with prescription drugs your doctor provides unless it is under his direction. Just like prescription medications, OTC drugs can cause serious side effects.
- Injections: The most common type of injection used to help alleviate the symptoms of spinal stenosis is an epidural injection. This type of injection places medication (usually a steroid) into the space that surrounds specific nerve roots (the epidural space). The medication helps to reduce inflammation and acute pain that radiates into the arms or legs. Usually a course of three injections are given over a period of several weeks.
- Physical therapy (PT): PT usually combines inactive therapy and therapeutic exercise. Inactive therapy includes heat or ice packs, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, and massage. These treatments help to ready the patient for active therapy by relaxing tight muscles and easing pain or discomfort. Therapeutic exercise includes stretching and prescribed exercises to help stabilize the spine, build strength and endurance, and increase flexibility.
What happens if I'm one of the 5% that needs surgery?
Surgery (any kind of surgery) is a serious decision. Your doctor will take sufficient time to thoroughly explain your surgical options with you. You might consider bringing a family member or friend along for an added set of 'ears.'
Read our article specifically on spinal stenosis surgery.
A few patients do require spine surgery to treat the symptoms caused by spinal stenosis. The goal of surgery is to relieve the pressure on the spinal cord and/or nerve roots. This is accomplished by enlarging the spinal canal and/or neuroforamen. The type of surgical procedure performed depends on the type, location, and cause of the spinal stenosis.