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Canal stenosis information

Canal stenosis, also referred to as spinal stenosis, is the narrowing of the spinal canal often due to the natural aging process or the development of another spine condition.

Causes of canal stenosis

The spinal canal houses the spinal cord (which includes the discs, joints and vertebrae) and the peripheral nerve roots that send signals from the central nervous system to other areas of the body. Canal stenosis describes the narrowing of the space within the spinal canal. This can either happen naturally — as age forces the canal to narrow — or as a result of a spine condition protruding into the empty space in the spinal canal.

Sometimes, the natural deterioration and weakening of the spine with age can cause a change in the spinal canal, resulting in canal stenosis. However, the most common form of canal stenosis develops as a side effect of another spine condition.

For example, a bulging disc may develop and expand outward into the empty space in the spinal canal, narrowing the walls of the canal and causing canal stenosis. This can also happen with a bone spur or other spine condition that causes a component of the spine to shift out of alignment and into the spinal canal.

Often, canal stenosis goes unnoticed for years unless a nerve root is pinched or compressed. If the walls of the spinal canal narrow to the point that a nerve root is compressed, pain and symptoms could develop.

Symptoms of canal stenosis

Symptoms of canal stenosis are similar to many other spine conditions because, like most other spine conditions, they develop from a pinched nerve. The common symptoms of canal stenosis include:

  • Pain (local and/or radiating)
  • Numbness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Tingling
  • Burning sensation
  • Limited mobility

These symptoms can develop near the spine or radiate throughout the pinched nerve pathway into other areas of the spine, like the arms or legs. For example, nerve roots in the cervical spinal canal (neck) send signals to the head, shoulders, arms and hands. Therefore, a pinched nerve from cervical canal stenosis can result in pain and symptoms in those areas as well as the neck.

Diagnosing canal stenosis

If you’ve been experiencing these symptoms of pain and discomfort for a couple weeks and the pain seems to worsen, you should schedule an appointment with your primary doctor to determine the cause of your pain.

Canal stenosis can be diagnosed through a series of physical and imaging exams. Your doctor will likely ask you questions about the duration and severity of your symptoms, as well as your general medical history to understand your condition.

A physical exam will involve your doctor pressing on different areas of the spine and nerve pathways to determine where exactly your pain is coming from. This is often followed by an imaging test of that spinal location so your doctor can see a clear image of what is compressing your nerve root. Often, imaging tests like an MRI or CT scan are ordered for you to complete at an imaging facility. Your doctor will recommend a facility near you for convenience.

Once your doctor has reviewed your imaging test and provided a diagnosis, you can begin treatment to relieve your canal stenosis pain.

Conservative treatment for canal stenosis

For many patients, canal stenosis pain can be effectively treated with several months of conservative, nonsurgical therapies. These treatments should always be recommended by a doctor for your safety and health.

Common conservative treatments used to treat the symptoms of canal stenosis include:

  • Pain medication
  • Limited rest
  • Weight loss
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Low-impact exercises
  • Physical therapy
  • Stretches and yoga
  • Chiropractic care
  • Corticosteroid injections

If these treatments are ineffective at relieving pain after several months, your doctor may recommend spine surgery for more advanced spinal canal treatment.

Spine surgery for canal stenosis

If you’ve been recommended for spine surgery to treat your canal stenosis, you should begin researching the surgical options available to you. The type of surgery recommended will depend on the underlying cause of your canal stenosis, such as a bulging disc, bone spur or other condition.

You should always research your minimally invasive options for surgery as an alternative to traditional open back surgery. While both types of procedures aim to relieve pressure on the pinched nerve in the spine, minimally invasive surgery uses a smaller incision which results in a shorter recovery time^ and lower risk of complication in comparison.

To learn more about the minimally invasive spine surgery at Laser Spine Institute — the leader in minimally invasive spine surgery — contact us today. We can provide you with a no-cost MRI review* to determine if you are a candidate for one of our procedures.