Spinal Stenosis: Common Signs and Effective Treatments

Spinal Stenosis: Common Signs and Effective Treatments

Up to a half-million Americans have symptoms of spinal stenosis, a painful condition that tends to become more common with age. In fact, about five out of every 1,000 men and women age 50 or older suffer from mild to severe symptoms of spinal stenosis, including neck pain and low back pain.

Kenneth I. Light, MD, has extensive experience both diagnosing and treating spinal stenosis in patients at his practice in San Leandro, California. If you have back pain, here’s what he wants you to know about spinal stenosis, its symptoms, and its treatment.

Spinal stenosis: The basics

“Stenosis” means narrowing, and in spinal stenosis, it’s the space inside your spinal canal that grows narrower over time. Your spinal canal serves as a conduit or corridor for nerves traveling from your brain to every other part of your body and back again. 

In spinal stenosis, the narrowing spinal canal crowds those nerves, compressing them and causing significant symptoms in your spine and anywhere along the nerve pathway. These symptoms tend to occur most commonly in the neck (cervical spinal stenosis) and the lower back (lumbar spinal stenosis) — the areas of the spine subjected to the most movement.

Osteoarthritis is a common cause of spinal stenosis. Arthritis causes the spine joints to stiffen and thicken, sometimes resulting in the growth of hard bone spurs that can irritate nerves. Other causes include:

Dr. Light performs an extensive evaluation of your spine prior to prescribing treatment to ensure your treatment is tailored to your specific needs.

Symptoms to look for

While mild spinal stenosis may cause no noticeable symptoms, as it progress, you might notice symptoms like:

Without treatment, severe spinal stenosis can cause permanent nerve damage and even interfere with normal bowel and bladder function.

Treating spinal stenosis

If you have spinal stenosis, Dr. Light bases your treatment on your symptoms, the severity of stenosis, where stenosis is occurring, and other factors. For mild to moderate symptoms, he may recommend lifestyle changes, at-home exercises, and physical therapy to begin with.

Pain medication or injections can help relieve inflammation. These may be used on their own or in combination with therapy and exercise.

If your symptoms are severe or if you don’t respond to conservative treatments and your symptoms are interfering with your daily activities and quality of life, Dr. Light may recommend surgery.

Different surgical techniques are used to treat spinal stenosis. Again, the approach that’s best for you depends on your symptoms, your anatomy, and other factors unique to you. 

Most surgeries focus on relieving nerve compression by removing part of a disc or part of the vertebra or ligaments that connect the spine bones. These surgeries usually entail minimally invasive techniques for faster recovery and fewer risks. In some cases, Dr. Light recommends fusion surgery to immobilize the part of the spine associated with painful symptoms.

Relieve your back or neck pain

Spinal stenosis is just one possible cause of back pain and neck pain. Other conditions can cause very similar symptoms, so having your symptoms diagnosed promptly is the best way to ensure that you get the most appropriate treatment to avoid permanent disability. 

To learn more about spinal stenosis and its treatment, contact Dr. Kenneth I. Light today by calling 415-673-4500.

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