Stenosis is a condition that can develop as a person ages, particularly in those over 50. It is characterized by a narrowing of the spinal canal, which places pressure on the spinal cord and nerves, because there is not enough room for them. It resembles placing a ring on your finger. If the finger becomes injured or inflamed, the ring constricts and causes pain. The pain caused by stenosis is typically focused in the low back area and can shoot down the legs and flare up after walking or exercising.
Narrowing of the spinal canal may be genetic. However, the primary contributing factor to the development of stenosis is degenerative disc disease. As the spine undergoes changes in stability, density and size, this can result in less space for and more pressure on the spinal structures.
When one area of the spine is injured, it is more likely that spinal health in other areas will fail. Conditions that may encourage the development of stenosis include scoliosis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, spinal tumors and trauma.
Symptoms of stenosis include a deep aching in the low back, buttocks and thigh, and intense numbness or pain in the legs and sometimes the shoulders. Symptoms can be brought on by walking and exercise. If you have stenosis, you may notice that pain is sometimes relieved by sitting or by a position in which the spine is flexed forward and bending over. Consequently, people with stenosis may walk with a hunched over posture and find that their pain worsens when bending backward. Severe cases of stenosis will display more serious symptoms such as loss of bowel and bladder function and loss of feeling in an arm/leg.
Outlined below are some of the diagnostic tools that your physician may use to gain insight into your condition and determine the best treatment plan for your condition.
- Medical history: Conducting a detailed medical history helps the doctor better understand the possible causes of your back and neck pain which can help outline the most appropriate treatment.
- Physical exam: During the physical exam, your physician will try to pinpoint the source of pain. Simple tests for flexibility and muscle strength may also be conducted.
- X-rays are usually the first step in diagnostic testing methods. X-rays show bones and the space between bones. They are of limited value, however, since they do not show muscles and ligaments.
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) uses a magnetic field and radio waves to generate highly detailed pictures of the inside of your body. Since X-rays only show bones, MRIs are needed to visualize soft tissues like discs in the spine. This type of imaging is very safe and usually pain-free.
- CT scan/myelogram: A CT scan is similar to an MRI in that it provides diagnostic information about the internal structures of the spine. A myelogram is used to diagnose a bulging disc, tumor, or changes in the bones surrounding the spinal cord or nerves. A local anesthetic is injected into the low back to numb the area. A lumbar puncture (spinal tap) is then performed. A dye is injected into the spinal canal to reveal where problems lie.
- Electrodiagnostics: Electrical testing of the nerves and spinal cord may be performed as part of a diagnostic workup. These tests, called electromyography (EMG) or somato sensory evoked potentials (SSEP), assist your doctor in understanding how your nerves or spinal cord are affected by your condition.
- Bone scan: Bone imaging is used to detect infection, malignancy, fractures and arthritis in any part of the skeleton. Bone scans are also used for finding lesions for biopsy or excision.
- Discography is used to determine the internal structure of a disc. It is performed by using a local anesthetic and injecting a dye into the disc under X-ray guidance. An X-ray and CT scan are performed to view the disc composition to determine if its structure is normal or abnormal. In addition to the disc appearance, your doctor will note any pain associated with this injection. The benefit of a discogram is that it enables the physician to confirm the disc level that is causing your pain. This ensures that surgery will be more successful and reduces the risk of operating on the wrong disc.
- Injections: Pain-relieving injections can relieve back pain and give the physician important information about your problem, as well as provide a bridge therapy.
A therapy program can be followed that incorporates stretches and movements that extend the spine. Injections may be used to reduce inflammation and control pain symptoms. Try our home remedy exercises provided. Stop if they cause an increase in pain or symptoms.
The most common surgery to treat stenosis is called a laminectomy, which helps create more space for the surrounding spinal nerves.
What causes spinal stenosis?
Although degenerating discs are the most common cause of spinal stenosis, spinal tumors, injury, bone disease and other conditions can lead to stenosis as well. For example, primary stenosis results from diseases that are present at birth, while acquired stenosis is typically the result of degeneration in the spine.
When should I see a doctor?
If pain interferes with your daily activities, you should consult a spine specialist to treat your stenosis. Leg pain that worsens is especially an indicator of spinal stenosis. This type of pain is not a normal part of the aging process.
What should I expect from treatment?
Treatment for spinal stenosis aims at minimizing the effects and symptoms of the stenosis but does not stop the progression of degenerative changes. Adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise can help prevent disc degeneration. Click here to learn more about degenerative disc disease.
When is surgery seriously considered?
If your pain is severe enough or if walking has become difficult, your physician may consider surgery as an option for you. However, nonsurgical, conservative treatments are usually effective at treating spinal stenosis.
Maahir Haque, MD is recognized as a leader in the field of minimally invasive spine surgery. At Spine Group Orlando, Dr. Maahir Haque also provides second opinions for spine surgery and MRI reviews for those with back pain and neck pain. Dr. Haque emphasizes non-surgical options for back pain and neck pain where possible. This can include accessing a back pain specialist with expertise in pain-relieving spinal injections and spine therapists. Spine therapy can include back stretches that can be a future home remedy for back pain or neck pain. If spine surgery is necessary because of a herniated disc, spinal fracture, or spinal stenosis, Dr. Maahir Haque operates through tubular retractors that reduce the size of the incision, lessen blood loss, reduce time in the hospital, speed return to activity with a less painful recovery. This spine surgery expertise enables many patients to have outpatient spine surgery and be home the same day. Spine Group Orlando and Dr. Maahir Haque provides artificial disc replacement in the neck using the Mobi-C disc implant, the first FDA-approved disc for multiple levels in the neck. Prodisc-C is also used for artificial disc replacement in the cervical spine. Dr. Haque is also one of the few spine surgeons in Orlando, Florida to provide lumbar artificial disc replacement using the Prodisc-L artificial disc. Dr. Haque is also referred patients from across Orlando and north central Florida for artificial disc replacement surgery as an alternative to spinal fusion. Accordingly, Dr. Haque's patients travel from across north central Florida, including: Orlando; Jacksonville; Tallahassee; Lakeland; Gainesville; Tampa; Daytona Beach; and Cocoa Beach. The spine center, as a destination for medical tourism for some international patients from Mexico and the Caribbean, can provide recommendations to out-of-town patients on nearby hotels and tourist attractions. Dr. Haque is featured on the national site CentersforArtificialDisc.com as an author on the subject of artificial disc replacement for herniated discs in the neck. The Centers for Artificial Disc web site has content specific to disc replacement options and alternatives to spinal fusion. Click here to visit the Centers for Artificial Disc.