5 Things About Spinal Stenosis You Need to Know

Spinal stenosis is one of the most common conditions that cause low back and/or neck pain in adults. Here, we provide the answers to 5 important questions about spinal stenosis.

#1. What is spinal stenosis?
Stenosis is a Greek word that means "narrowing." Spinal stenosis develops when the spinal canal and/or neuroforamen become narrow and compress the spinal cord and/or nerve roots. Compression of the cord/nerves causes inflammation and pain.

  • The spinal canal is a round vertical hole down the middle of the spinal column.
  • Neuroforamen are nerve passageways created by the discs inbetween the upper and lower vertebral bodies. Nerve roots exit the spinal canal through the neuroforamen.

example of spinal nerve compreesionAxial view of a slice of the cervical spine (neck region).

#2. What's causing my spinal stenosis?
Most often, spinal stenosis is the result of disease or injury to the spine.The most common cause of spinal stenosis is osteoarthritis (spondylosis); cartilage that cushions joints starts to degenerate. Some patients are genetically more prone to stenosis. They may have osteoarthritis in their family.

  • Other causes of spinal stenosis are bulging discs, herniated discs, or injury to the spine.
  • Some people are born with spinal stenosis (congential spinal stenosis), but that is very uncommon.

#3. What are some nonsurgical ways to treat spinal stenosis?
There are many nonsurgical treatment options for spinal stenosis.

  • Acupuncture and/or massage are alternative therapies that may help reduce pain and symptoms..
  • Low impact exercise can help strengthen your core muscles important to supporting your spine resulting in less pain. Swimming is a good form of exercise for people with spinal stenosis.
  • Over-the-counter NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) may help reduce inflammation and pain.
  • Your doctor may send you to physical therapy.
  • If your spinal stenosis is severe, your doctor may recommend an epidural steroid injection. This type of injection places a powerful anti-inflammatory medication near the nerves affected by spinal stenosis to reduce pain.

#4. Will I need surgery to relieve my spinal stenosis?
Most patients with spinal stenosis respond well to nonsurgical treatments, and do not require surgery. However, there are situations when you may want to go ahead with a surgical recommendation.

  • Medication and/or a combination of nonsurgical treatments have failed to reduce pain and symptoms.
  • Pain is severe or progressively becoming worse
  • Radiculopathy; pain, numbness, tingling in the arms or legs
  • Partial or total loss of sensation in an extremity
  • Reduced or loss of strength or function in your arms or legs
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control

#5. What types of surgery are performed for spinal stenosis?

  • Decompression: Removal of tissue pressing on a nerve structure. Common decompression procedures are: foraminotomy, laminectomy, and laminotomy.
  • Stabilization: Certain types of devices are used to stop movement of two or more levels of the spine; these fixation devices (eg,plate, screws) stabilize the spine.
  • Fusion: Bone graft is packed into and around the instrumentation. The bone graft stimulates new bone growth to heal the spine.
Updated on: 05/04/17
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Causes of Spinal Stenosis
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Causes of Spinal Stenosis

There are several causes of spinal stenosis, including aging, osteoarthritis, and a herniated disc. Spine surgeon-reviewed article explaining in clear language what could be causing your back pain or neck pain.
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