What is spinal stenosis?
Spinal stenosis occurs when the spaces between the vertebrae begin to narrow, placing pressure on the spinal nerves. Compression on the spinal nerves can affect walking, balancing, and the sensation of touch. Spinal stenosis can occur anywhere along the spine; however, the condition is most often found in the lower back and neck. Spinal stenosis is diagnosed through a physical exam and imaging such as x-ray, MRI, CT scan, electromyogram, and bone scan.
Symptoms and causes
Spinal stenosis is often gradual, and symptoms are not always noticeable at first. As the condition progresses and the vertebrae place pressure on the spinal nerves, balance problems, leg and arm weakness or numbness, and lower back pain can begin. Spinal stenosis can even affect bowel and bladder function. Symptoms will vary depending on the nerves affected and location of the stenosis. An individual experiencing any of the above symptoms should see a medical professional.
Age-related degeneration is the most common cause of spinal stenosis. Additional causes include spinal defects present at birth, bone tumors, herniated discs, achondroplasia, and spinal injuries. Untreated spinal stenosis can lead to permanent numbness and, in extreme cases, even paralysis.
Understanding Spinal Stenosis
Treatment for spinal stenosis will depend on the severity and location of the stenosis. Mild stenosis can be treated with a balance of pain medications and physical therapy. Steroid injections are an option to help reduce inflammation and relieve pressure. Stenosis causing severe pain or neurological complications will be treated with surgery.
Surgery for stenosis
The goal of surgery is to create more space in the spinal canal. Spinal stenosis surgeries include removing part of the vertebrae through a laminectomy to reduce pressure on the nerves. A foraminotomy widens the portion of the vertebrae where the nerves exit. Spinal fusions are reserved for the most severe cases. Fortunately, minimally invasive techniques can make spine surgery a less invasive process.
Minimally invasive surgery for spinal stenosis is becoming more common. MIS has better cosmetic results, is less damaging to nearby tissue, and is more stabilizing to the spine. There is a reduced risk of postoperative pain and infection, as well as decreased reliance on pain medication. Recovery time is quicker, and less rehabilitation is needed.
Spinal stenosis options
More severe cases of spinal stenosis may require invasive surgery with long recovery times. Minimally invasive surgeries are available and will leave less scarring and have a quicker recovery and rehabilitation period. Consult with a spine specialist to learn more about treatment and minimally invasive surgery options.