FAQ’s on Spinal Stenosis
Spinal Stenosis is a condition in which the patient has a spinal canal that is narrower than normal. This narrowness can put excess pressure on both the spinal cord and nerve roots of the spine.
While the amount that the canal has narrowed will vary from patient to patient, it is possible for this narrowing to result in pinched nerve roots and damage to the spine. This can lead to pain and weakness in the limbs.
What causes spinal stenosis?
There are two different kinds of Spinal Stenosis a patient can be diagnosed with: Congenital Stenosis and Acquired Stenosis. For patients who have congenital stenosis, the condition has been present since birth and has not caused any associated complications.
Acquired Stenosis can be the result of spinal damage, with the primary culprit being arthritic inflammation. This arthritic damage can lead to bone spurs forming and the spinal ligaments and tissues thickening, which can put pressure on the spinal cord. The pressure can also be the result of a bulging disc causing a narrowing of the spinal canal, which is one potential result of degenerative disc disease (DDD) in the patient.
The symptoms of spinal stenosis
The symptoms experienced by the patient will be the same no matter how stenosis has occurred. The primary symptom felt by the patient is general pain that is focused on the area that is under pressure, with the pain radiating out into the surrounding tissues of the spine.
There will also be secondary symptoms based on the location of the narrowing. Lumbar narrowing (lower back) can result in weakness and pain felt within the buttocks and legs. Cervical narrowing can result in a loss of mobility of the neck, and numbness or weakness felt in the arms.
In cases where stenosis has compressed one or more abdominal nerves, there may be a resulting loss of function in the body. This can include a loss in control of the bladder and the inability to retain food, each of which is a severe medical condition that warrants immediate medical attention.
How is spinal stenosis diagnosed?
Diagnosis of stenosis begins with a complete examination of the patient, with special focus paid to the areas where pain is seemingly originating. The source of pain for the patient (the site of narrowing) is typically revealed during this physical examination during routine imaging tests. Imaging tests are also key in discovering whether or not the stenosis is the result of arthritic growths, or is occurring due to the entirety of the spinal canal narrowing.
An MRI will be performed for the patient allowing the physician to view the structures surrounding the spine, which include the nervous and muscular tissue of the spine. This can help confirm the diagnosis of stenosis when it is the result of a thickening of spinal tissue, and identify the compression of nerves.
Treatment options for spinal stenosis
For many patients, the treatment plan provided will be in the form of medication to help combat the symptomatic pains and inflammation coupled with a physical therapy regimen to strength the muscles surrounding the spine. Since these muscles help provide physical support, an increase in their strength can help reduce the amount of support required of the spine. This can help prevent arthritis inflammation from occurring, and will help to loosen the spinal tissues to prevent future thickening.
Patients who do not respond successfully with relief from traditional therapy and oral medication may be given an epidural injection. The physician injects a numbing agent and a steroid into the affected area, with the goal to provide relief for an extended period of time. Studies show that 75% of patients receive excellent pain relief from the epidural steroid injections.
The pain relief may last for days to months, and patients may receive a series of the injections to provide the optimal pain relief. Surgery for spinal stenosis is a last resort and becomes an elective, quality of life procedure.
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