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Spinal Stenosis

    What is Spinal Stenosis?

    The spine, which is composed of vertebrae, serves as a vital support system for the upper body, offering stability and enabling movements like turning and twisting. Additionally, the spine houses spinal nerves that transmit signals from the brain to the rest of the body. These nerves are safeguarded by the surrounding bones and tissues, preventing any damage or impairment. Any disturbances in these nerves can impact functions such as walking, balance, sensation, and may even lead to back pain.

    Spinal stenosis is a condition that occurs when the spinal column gradually narrows, resulting in spinal cord compression and potentially causing back pain. While minimal narrowing may not lead to any symptoms, excessive narrowing can compress the nerves and lead to various issues.

    It’s important to note that stenosis can develop in any part of the spine, and the extent of its impact can vary. Spinal stenosis is also known as pseudo-claudication, central spinal stenosis, or foraminal spinal stenosis.

    Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis

    As nerves become more compressed, symptoms usually progress over time. You may experience the following:

    • Weakness in your legs or arms
    • Lower back pain while standing or walking
    • Numbness in your legs, buttocks, or back
    • Balance problems

    These symptoms will typically decrease with rest, but will return with activity.

    Causes of Spinal Stenosis

    The most common cause of spinal stenosis is aging, which can lead to various degenerative processes in the body. These processes may result in the thickening of spinal tissues and the enlargement of bones, consequently putting pressure on the nerves and potentially causing back pain. Additionally, conditions such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, spine defects, a naturally narrow spinal cord, spinal curvature or scoliosis, Paget’s disease of the bone, bone tumors, and achondroplasia (a type of dwarfism) can also contribute to the development of spinal stenosis.

    Diagnosing Spinal Stenosis

    If you are experiencing symptoms such as back pain that are suggestive of spinal stenosis, a thorough medical evaluation will be conducted by your doctor. This may include gathering your medical history, conducting a physical examination, and closely observing your movements. Additionally, your doctor may order diagnostic tests such as X-ray, MRI scan, or CT scan to visualize your spine, electromyelogram to assess the condition of spinal nerves, or a bone scan to detect any abnormalities or growths in your spine.

    Treatment Options for Lumbar Spinal Stenosis

    The first approach to treating lumbar stenosis typically involves conservative, non-surgical methods.

    Initially, to relieve pain caused by this condition, your Wisconsin spine doctor may recommend:

    • Exercise or physical therapy to strengthen abdominal and back muscles
    • Low-impact aerobic activities like swimming or using an exercise bike
    • Heat or ice applications
    • Over-the-counter pain relievers
    • Injections

    If severe pain persists, you may be prescribed painkillers. Spine surgeries are serious, but in cases where conservative measures prove insufficient and symptoms persist, lumbar stenosis surgery may be considered as the next step.

    Lumbar Spinal Stenosis Surgery

    Lumbar stenosis surgeries involve removing bony growths or protruding bone portions on the discs. These growths can irritate or compress spinal nerves, causing crowding within the spinal canal.

    Options for lumbar spine stenosis surgery include:

    • Lumbar foraminotomy: This procedure entails removing bone or tissue to create more space for nerve roots to exit through the vertebrae.
    • Laminectomy: Also known as decompression surgery, this procedure involves removing a part of a vertebra to create space for the spinal cord and nerves.
    • Spinal fusion: This surgery involves joining two or more spinal vertebrae to prevent movement between them, improving the stability of the spine.

    In some cases, minimally invasive techniques can be employed for these procedures. For instance, keyhole surgery for laminectomy and foraminotomy are quicker and involve less recovery time compared to traditional surgery.

    Cervical Spinal Stenosis Treatment

    Similar to lumbar spinal stenosis treatment, the initial approach to cervical stenosis treatment often involves a conservative strategy recommended by the spine center’s doctors.

    Nonsurgical treatment may include:

    • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like naproxen
    • Heat or ice therapy
    • Physical therapy

    Advanced cases of spinal stenosis in the neck may lead to cervical myelopathy, causing symptoms such as difficulty walking and balance issues. When non-surgical treatments fail to alleviate pain or pressure on the spinal cord, cervical stenosis surgery may be recommended by your doctor.

    Cervical Spinal Stenosis Surgery

    This type of surgery involves the replacement of the ruptured or herniated disc with a small bone grafting plug. Over time, this plug grows to establish a connection between the two neighboring vertebrae. Alternatively, in cervical corpectomy, a section of the vertebra is removed along with the discs and substituted with either a bone graft or a metal plate and screws. This supportive structure helps stabilize the spine.

    Preventing Spinal Stenosis

    While most instances of spinal stenosis result from the natural wear-and-tear on the spine over several decades, the damage and deterioration associated with aging cannot be entirely avoided. However, making healthy lifestyle choices can help slow down the progression.

    Measures to reduce the risk of developing stenosis include:

    • Maintaining an active lifestyle
    • Engaging in regular exercise, if approved by your doctor or physical therapist
    • Abstaining from smoking
    • Sustaining a healthy body weight

    If you are experiencing back pain, neck pain, numbness, or other concerning symptoms, it’s crucial to seek professional advice without delay. Schedule a consultation with the experienced team at Pro Spine & Pain by contacting us today.

    Updated on Apr 30, 2024 by Dr. Thomas Stauss (Pain Management) of Pro Spine & Pain

    Thomas Stauss, MD

    Thomas Stauss, MD, completed both his undergraduate and medical studies at the esteemed University of Wisconsin in Madison. Dr. Stauss values having access to a wide array of cutting-edge treatments, ensuring effective relief for his patients' discomfort and a significant enhancement in their quality of life. Dr. Stauss’s primary objective is to uphold the dignity of each patient while delivering ethical and professional services.

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