The Definition, Causes, and Treatment of Spinal Stenosis

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What is Spinal Stenosis?

Stenosis means to narrow, and spinal stenosis means the narrowing of the spine. Technically, it means that the openings of the vertebrae are narrowing. This process can occur in three places along a single vertebrae. Those three places are the interior conduit, where the spinal cord is housed, the canals that allow nerves to branch out from the spinal cord,  and the space between the disk and the vertebrae. The human spine is made up of 26 bones each called a vertebrae. According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, the narrowing, or stenosis, causes pressure to increase on the spinal cord and/or the nerves, which leads to pain. Some may refer to this as a pinched nerve.

The symptoms can vary greatly depending on how advanced the process has become. The smaller the openings grow the worse the pressure on the spine and nerves become. This is why it is important to have a proper diagnosis even when symptoms appear to be minor. Tingling in an extremity, numbness that comes and goes, and even pain that is not severe should be checked by a qualifying doctor who understand spinal health. Diagnosing spine issues early allows the patient the best opportunity to correct the issue before it becomes chronic.

What causes spinal stenosis?

Aging is one of the common causes of stenosis of the spine. As our body gets older we may experience bone spurs, enlarging of joints, and even a thickening of the supportive/connective tissue around the spinal column. Even inherited conditions can be responsible. Arthritis, tumors, and disease can also lead to narrowing of the spinal openings.

Both Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis are known to be contributors to this condition. Osteoarthritis is known to cause bone spurs. Rheumatoid Arthritis is especially damaging to joints, including those of the spine. The onset of symptoms can be from a wide variety of medical conditions. This means that proper diagnosis is key to development of treatment plans because other conditions such as sciatica can by a symptom of stenosis.

How to treat spinal stenosis

An article by Spine-Health listed Lumbar Laminectomy as the most common form of treatment for stenosis of the lumbar region. In addition to Lumbar Laminectomy, treatments may include:

  • Microendoscopic Decompression.
  • Facet Replacement or Total Element Replacement.
  • Facetectomy.
  • Interspinous Process Distractors.

Even with aging, treatment is very possible. The goal is first to be properly diagnosed, and then to talk with a doctor who understands your condition. The goal of every patient should be to live the most active life possible. Care and treatment for spinal pain, back pain, and nerve pain are treatable. Advances in medical technology have made back surgery a very viable option. There is no reason to live another day in pain, or debilitated and unable to live an active life. Quality treatment, from an experienced doctor can set you free.

Howard B. Cotler, MD, FACS, FAAOS

Gulf Coast Spine Care

1200 Binz St.

Houston, TX 77004‎


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