Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal. It results in nerve pinching and often debilitating or disabling pain accompanied by lack of sensation.
Spinal stenosis may be caused by tumors, injuries, disease, or spinal curve disorders such as kyphosis or scoliosis. Most commonly, it occurs in the elderly through normal changes to the spine during the aging process.
How is it diagnosed?
Spinal stenosis is diagnosed through imaging procedures such as X-ray, CT scans, and MRI. Sometimes a dye is injected into the spinal canal to facilitate contrast imaging on CT myelography.
How is it treated?
Spinal stenosis is best addressed following consultation with a team of specialists. Orthopedists, neurologists, and physical rehab experts should be consulted in order to achieve the best results for each individual.
Although spinal stenosis can result in disability or severe pain, it is not a life-threatening condition. Symptoms can be managed through acupuncture, anti-inflammatories, painkillers, massage, and physical therapy. Sometimes a series of cortisone injections can help ease symptoms as well. The injections normally need to be repeated a few times throughout the year.
If symptoms do not respond to any other treatment, surgery may be done.
Spinal stenosis surgery
Currently, lumbar spinal stenosis surgery is one of the most common back surgeries in persons over the age of sixty and the primary reason for surgery of any type in persons of that age. Numbers are expected to rise as “baby boomers” age.
There are varying ways in which to approach surgery for spinal stenosis.
Sometimes a spinal decompression can be performed in which the back part of the vertebrae is removed. This frees up more room in the spinal canal so that the nerves receive more of the blood flow. This procedure is called a laminectomy. A laminectomy can normally be done in a minimal amount of time with the patient returned home the same day surgery is performed.
Another option is spinal fusion, where the vertebrae are joined together with grafted bone. It is not necessarily a preferred technique as it can result in a limited range of motion. However, many spinal stenosis patients begin with a very limited range of motion, so spinal fusion is chosen to create better overall stability and strength in the back.
Laminoplasty is a third surgical option that allows the patient to retain more range of motion. In this procedure, the lamina (back of the vertebrae) are cut on each side but not removed, so that they swing freely. Then the flaps of bone are secured with small pieces of bone or wedges so the spinal canal remains enlarged.
Research into prevention of spinal stenosis and other musculoskeletal disorders is ongoing. Meanwhile, treatments are being refined and improved to ensure a better quality of life for those suffering from this debilitating spine condition.
National Institute of Health
Signet/Mosby Medical Encyclopedia