What is spinal stenosis?
Spinal stenosis is a condition characterized by the narrowing of the spinal canal. It is usually the result of the spinal degeneration associated with aging. When the spinal canal narrows, it pinches the spinal cord and nerves, resulting in lower back pain. Additionally, many patients experience pain or abnormal sensations in their neck and extremities, especially the legs. Cramping, weakness or numbness may also occur. In some patients, spinal stenosis may also cause loss of bladder and bowel control.
What causes spinal stenosis?
Spinal disc herniation, the thickening of the ligaments in the back, osteoporosis and tumors can all also lead to spinal stenosis. In some cases, the condition may be congenital. According to the American Academy of Rheumatology, anyone over the age of 50 is at risk of developing spinal stenosis. An individual patient’s medical history can elevate their risk as well. Moreover, the symptoms and impact of spinal stenosis vary from one patient to the next.
What are the symptoms of spinal stenosis?
Spinal stenosis is a painful condition that can affect the cervical (upper), thoracic (middle) or lumbar (lower) spine. For some patients, the condition may present in all three areas of the back. The first symptoms of spinal stenosis are periods of neck or lower back pain. Over time, their discomfort grows, and patients gradually may begin to experience claudication — a feeling of insufficient circulation in the arms or legs. Pain in the back and legs may become so severe that even standing up straight or walking short distances becomes unbearable.
How is spinal stenosis treated?
While there is currently no cure for spinal stenosis, there are steps you can take to help reduce your pain and improve your flexibility. Staying physically active can help significantly alleviate the symptoms of spinal stenosis. Exercise helps keep the muscles of the back both strong and flexible, reducing pain and improving overall well-being.
Depending on the severity of the condition, medical treatments are available to address pain and loss of quality of life due to spinal stenosis. Pain medications and anti-inflammatories can help reduce the discomfort associated with the disease. Cortisone injections directly into the affected area may also provide temporary relief.
In some cases, surgical treatment may provide the best results. The two most commonly performed procedures are the anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF) and lumbar spinal fusion.
Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF). During this procedure, the surgeon accesses the spine via the front (anterior) of the neck. Problem intervertebral discs — cartilaginous tissues between the vertebrae — are removed and replaced with a bone graft. These grafts fill in the space left by the discs’ removal, stimulate bone healing and help the remaining vertebrae fuse together into a solid bone. Metal plates and screws are commonly used to provide stability and accelerate the process of fusion.
Lumbar spinal fusion. Spinal fusion is a surgical technique used to eliminate pain by immobilizing problem vertebrae in the lower back. These vertebrae are stabilized using supplementary bone tissue. Over the course of three to six months, this grafted material promotes healing of the degenerative vertebrae. The surgeon may also fix the fused vertebrae in place with screws or wire and a metal rod.
If you are over 50 and experiencing persistent pain in your back or neck, or abnormal sensations in your arms and/or legs, contact the Houston offices of Dr. Kushwaha today for a consultation. Dr. Vivek Kushwaha is a renowned Orthopedic Surgeon known for his spinal stenosis surgical expertise.