Spinal stenosis is one of the most common problems that leads to back or neck pain. Here, we discuss a few details that may help you recognize and get appropriate care to restore optimal mobility and comfort.
What is spinal stenosis?
Stenosis is a term that describes the narrowing of an area. Spinal stenosis is narrowing of the spinal canal, the area through which the spinal cord travels. The spinal canal is the inner aspect of the spinal column, with the column made up of vertebrae and semi-rigid discs that act as shock absorbers. Spinal stenosis places compression on the nerves that branch out from the spinal cord. In some cases, the narrowing of the canal can compress the spinal cord itself. This compression leads to inflammation and pain.
Causes of Spinal Stenosis
Spinal stenosis may originate with a back or neck injury. However, most often, we trace stenosis back to osteoarthritis, a degenerative condition of the joints in the spine and other parts of the body. A spinal injury may involve a traumatic event, but it doesn’t have to; injury may be as subtle as a herniated or bulging disc stemming from repetitive motion. Rarely, stenosis is congenital.
Treating Spinal Stenosis
Understandably, people with chronic back pain may fear that their condition requires surgery. In most instances, including spinal stenosis, non-surgical modalities are prescribed first. These include:
- Pain management with over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen.
- Low impact exercise to strengthen the core muscles that support the low back as well as the cervical spine.
- Massage or acupuncture, or a combination of the two. Both of these therapies reduce inflammation and improve muscle elasticity.
- Physical therapy may be recommended to target the affected area of the spine with specific movements.
- Prescription medication may be ordered and may be administered by injection to decrease pain and improve range of motion.
Spinal Stenosis Surgery
Surgery is generally considered a last resort treatment for back pain. We discuss surgery when comfort level and physical function does not return as desired using non-surgical approaches. Consider consulting with NYC spinal specialist Dr. Albert if pain continues to worsen or just doesn’t get better, if pain coincides with numbness or tingling in the limbs, or if there is a loss of sensation or strength in the arms or the legs.
A few surgical techniques may be considered to treat spinal stenosis. These include:
- Spinal decompression to alleviate compression on a nerve. Compression may involve laminectomy, laminotomy, or foraminotomy.
- Stabilization of the affected vertebrae using screws, plates, or other instrumentation.
- Bone grafting may be installed around the stabilizing fixtures to support structural integrity. This is referred to as spinal fusion.