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Spinal stenosis overview

Spinal stenosis is a common condition in the spine that describes the narrowing of the spinal canal. This condition often develops as a result of another spine condition protruding into the spinal canal and limiting the available space for nerve roots to travel.

Because the spinal canal is home to the peripheral nerve roots — the nerves near the spine that impact other areas of the body — any degree of spinal stenosis can cause nerve compression, which can lead to painful symptoms. In order to treat the nerve compression and symptoms of spinal stenosis, a doctor must first diagnose what is causing the spinal canal to narrow and then recommend nonsurgical or surgical treatments to help regain space within the canal.

Causes of spinal stenosis

Spinal stenosis often develops as the result of another degenerative spine condition that has caused a portion of the spine to move out of alignment and into the space within the spinal canal.

Because of its close association with other degenerative spine conditions, spinal stenosis is often considered a degenerative spine condition itself. Degenerative spine conditions are considered conditions that develop as a result of the natural weakening and degeneration of the spine with age.

As the spine ages, the discs, joints and vertebrae tend to weaken and become susceptible to damage. One common example of this is a bulging disc. As the disc weakens and undergoes consistent pressure from the surrounding vertebrae, it can bulge outward. This bulge causes the disc to expand past its normal perimeter within the spine and extend into the spinal canal.

Now, in the section where the bulging disc is protruding into the spinal canal, the spinal canal has less room available for the nerve roots to travel through. This could cause a nerve to become pinched or compressed in this area, resulting in a series of painful symptoms.

Common degenerative conditions that can cause spinal stenosis include:

  • Bulging disc
  • Herniated disc
  • Bone spur
  • Arthritis of the spine
  • Facet joint disease
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Spondylolisthesis
  • Adult degenerative scoliosis

As these conditions worsen and the spinal canal continues to narrow, the risk of developing a pinched nerve and the associated painful symptoms increases.

Symptoms of spinal stenosis

The symptoms of spinal stenosis can range from mild to debilitating, depending on the severity of your condition and nerve compression. In some cases, the symptoms may prevent you from completing your daily activities, like household chores and walking your dog.

Common symptoms of spinal stenosis include:

  • Pain, often radiating
  • Muscle weakness
  • Muscle spasms
  • Tingling or numbness
  • Burning sensation
  • Difficulty bending or twisting

These symptoms can begin in the neck or back at the site of the spinal stenosis and can travel the length of the nerve pathway into other areas of the body. Depending on the location of the pinched nerve, the symptoms can reach into the head, shoulder and arm or the buttocks, legs and feet.

If you’re suffering from these symptoms and searching for pain relief, schedule an appointment with your doctor to diagnose the cause of your spinal stenosis and find a treatment plan that works for you.

Diagnosing spinal stenosis

Diagnosing spinal stenosis often means diagnosing the other degenerative condition that is causing your spinal canal to narrow, e.g. a herniated disc, bone spur or other condition.

To do this, your doctor will begin with a physical examination. You may be asked to do certain movements, like bending or stretching, so your doctor can measure your range of motion. Your doctor may also press into certain areas of your spine to locate the pinched nerve and the source of your spinal stenosis.

Once this location is detected, your doctor may order an imaging test of that area of your spine to view what is pressing into your spinal canal and pinching a nerve root. After your MRI or CT scan is reviewed, your doctor will properly diagnose your spinal stenosis and help you move forward with treatment.

Treatment for spinal stenosis

Spinal stenosis can be treated through nonsurgical or surgical means, though doctors often begin the treatment program with a series of conservative therapies. Common nonsurgical treatments to relieve the symptoms of spinal stenosis include:

  • Pain medication
  • Physical therapy
  • Chiropractic care
  • Weight loss
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Hot/cold compresses
  • Low-impact exercise
  • Stretching
  • Yoga
  • Corticosteroid injections

These treatments often take several months before effective pain relief is felt. If after this time you are still suffering from chronic pain and symptoms, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn about your surgical options.

At Laser Spine Institute, we offer a minimally invasive alternative to traditional open neck and back surgery. Our procedures use a smaller incision than what is used during traditional open spine surgery, allowing our patients to experience a shorter recovery time^ and lower risk of complication.

It’s time to take your life back from the chronic pain of spinal stenosis. Contact Laser Spine Institute today for a no-cost MRI review* to find out if you are a candidate for one of our minimally invasive procedures.