What is Spinal Stenosis?
Spinal stenosis refers to a narrowing of the spaces within your spine. Spinal stenosis can put pressure on the spinal canal and irritate nerves through the spine. Spinal stenosis occurs most frequently in the neck (cervical spine) and lower back (lumbar spine).
Unlike pain caused by a Herniated Disc, often caused by a bulging disc compressing the spinal nerves, Stenosis is caused by the nerves being compressed by the bone itself, and usually requires diagnostics and surgery.
If left untreated, spinal stenosis can exacerbate, ultimately causing pressure on the spinal cord. This can lead to significant and permanent nerve damage including paralysis and death. Symptoms may affect your gait and balance, dexterity, grip strength and bowel or bladder function. Lumbar spinal stenosis can put pressure on the spinal cord and the nerves that travel through the lower part of the spine. Spinal specialists lament age as the most common cause of lumbar spinal stenosis. Neurosurgeons caution patients with conditions such as lumbar spinal stenosis to stop hoping it will get better without a specialist. Unfortunately Spinal stenosis is often a progressive condition, which can worsen over time.
Fortunately, some patients find that symptoms can improve with the right stretching, core strengthening and exercises. It’s important that patients employ these stabilization exercises and not just use anti-inflammatory medications alone.
How do neuorsurgeons diagnosis Spinal Stenosis?
Doctors use a variety of diagnostic and surveying tools to determine if a patient may have spinal stenosis. In doing so, the physicians may attempt to rule out other conditions as well. The tools include but are not limited to:
- Questioning the patient about medical and family history. This may help to determine if an injury, aging, or an underlying condition may cause the patient’s symptoms.
- A physical exam, which may check how the patient’s mobility and assess, when the pain occurs as well any muscle strength in the arms and legs, and balance.
- Imaging tests such as x-rays, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), and computerized tomography (CT) scans.
What are the most common causes of Spinal Stenosis?
General aging represents the most common cause of spinal stenosis. Spinal degeneration and bone density breakdown progresses throughout the body as it ages. As a result, tissues in the spine can thicken, and bones can increase in size, compressing the nerves. Common aging ailments such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis may also contribute to spinal stenosis.
What can patients do to prevent lumbar spinal stenosis?
- Maintain an active lifestyle including regular exercise. Exercise your core which strengthens the muscles that support your lower back and helps keep your spine stable.
- Maintain proper posture and lift heavy objects with a neutral spine, avoiding straining and rounding the back.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Consult your physician if you continually struggle with weight management.
What surgeries will a neurosurgeon perform to treat Spinal Stenosis?
If nonoperative solutions fail to mitigate the pain derived from spinal stenosis, a neurosurgeon may opt for a surgical approach. Typically a spinal physician will perform a Laminectomy to remove a portion of the vertebrae, thereby releasing the pressure on the spinal nerves and allowing the spine to move more freely within the canal.