Our spines narrow around our spinal cord and related nerves every time we stand up from a seated position: it’s part of our normal biomechanics. But there’s a big difference between that narrowing and the one that happens as we get older. Referred to as spinal stenosis, it’s usually caused by osteoarthritis, and when that contraction gets to the point where the spine starts impacting the nerves, it can lead to significant pain.
Spinal Stenosis Origins and Symptoms
Most people who are diagnosed with spinal stenosis experience it either in their lower back or higher up, in their neck. When it is caused by osteoarthritis, it is usually another of the many impacts of wear and tear that we experience as we age. Unfortunately, osteoarthritis’ degenerative process can happen to younger people too, especially if their spinal canal is naturally narrow. The condition can also arise following spinal injuries, herniated discs, and spinal tumors.
Some people who develop spinal stenosis never experience symptoms. The level of pain that the condition generates depends upon where in the spine the narrowing takes place, and so do the specific symptoms. Those whose narrowing is high in the spine will experience numbness and tingling in the arm, hand or fingers, as well as neck pain. When stenosis occurs in the lumbar spine, it manifests as low back pain and cramping in the thigh or gluteal area, eventually progressing further to numbness or tingling down the legs. Left untreated, people who have lumbar spinal stenosis may lose control of their bladder or bowels.
How to Treat Spinal Stenosis
Every case of spinal stenosis is different. Some people never experience any kind of symptom or disability, and as a result, no intervention is needed. If a patient arrives at our New Jersey lumbar spine specialty practice suffering from minor discomfort, we may suggest over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs and physical therapy, as well as exercises that help to stretch the spine and promote greater flexibility. Next steps may include injections into the spine to ease inflammation and pain. For those who are suffering to a significant degree and for whom conservative treatment approaches don’t provide relief, the appropriate course of action may be a minimally invasive surgery called lumbar laminectomy.
Though surgery may sound intimidating, lumbar laminectomy can be performed using minimally invasive surgical techniques on an outpatient basis that can have you home the same day as your procedure. The operation reduces pressure on the nerves by removing bony overgrowths and tissue that is compressing them, but uses a much smaller incision and specialized instruments that minimize the trauma that impacts the muscles in the back. As a result there is less blood loss, less post-operative pain, and a much quicker recovery. Most importantly of all, the procedure can provide real relief to a debilitating condition.
If you are experiencing symptoms of spinal stenosis, your first step is to get an accurate diagnosis. Contact our New Jersey lumbar spine specialty practice today to set up an appointment.