The spine is composed of the cervical (neck), thoracic (upper back), and lumbar (lower back) regions. Each region has uniquely shaped bones known as vertebrae. When the twenty-four vertebrae of each region perfectly align, they form a structure known as the spinal canal. The spinal canal has the important jobs of protecting the spinal cord and allowing it to branch out to innervate the muscles and organs of the body.
What is Spinal Stenosis?
The narrowing of the spinal canal and resulting compression of the spinal cord or spinal nerves is referred to spinal stenosis. Typically caused by arthritis, spinal stenosis is a common cause of spine and/or extremity pain. The symptoms of spinal stenosis include the following:
- Sciatica (burning pain in the buttocks and/or legs)
- Extremity tingling, numbness, and/or weakness
Illustration 1- Spinal stenosis
Non-Surgical Options for Spinal Stenosis
When the findings of a complete medical history, thorough physical examination, and medical imaging studies lead to a diagnosis of spinal stenosis, patients are given a treatment plan that may include the following non-surgical and minimally invasive treatment options:
- Physical therapy. Muscle imbalances can cause the spine to favor certain positions and movements. When left uncorrected and when coupled with arthritis, muscle imbalances can change the shape of the spine and cause spinal stenosis. Physical therapy is an effective treatment option that relieves the symptoms by stretching and strengthening the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that support the spine.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). When the spinal cord is compressed due to spinal stenosis, it becomes irritated and inflamed. This causes symptoms that range from mild to severe. In order to treat inflammation and alleviate symptoms, over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications known as NSAIDs may be taken orally. Common NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin), naproxen (Aleve, Anaprox, and Naprosyn), and celecoxib (Celebrex).
- Corticosteroid injections. Fast acting symptom relief occurs when powerful anti-inflammatory medications known as corticosteroids are injected into an area of the spine that is affected by spinal stenosis. Injections are typically used in conjunction with physical therapy to ensure long lasting symptom relief.
Minimally Invasive Surgical Options for Spinal Stenosis
If the symptoms of spinal stenosis do not improve with the use of these treatment options, a Neurosurgeon may recommend one of the following minimally invasive surgical procedures:
- A laminectomy. Arthritic bone and soft tissue that is causing spinal stenosis are surgically removed. The spinal cord or nerves are decompressed and symptoms are eliminated.
- A spinal fusion. Arthritic bone and soft tissue are removed and replaced with an implant filled with bone graft. Over time, bone graft and existing bone fuse to form a single, solid bone that no longer compresses the spinal cord or nerves.
Seeking Treatment for Spinal Stenosis
The first step in treating the symptoms of spinal stenosis to receive a diagnosis. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, please contact one of our 3 Southern California offices to make an appointment. Receiving a proper diagnosis and treatment plan will help get you on the road to recovery.
Dr. Anthony Virella is a Board-Certified, Fellowship trained Neurological Spine Surgeon with advanced training in the management of complex spinal disorders. He attended medical school at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and is a graduate of the UCLA Neurosurgery Residency Program. Dr. Virella is a nationally recognized specialist in the field of Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery. Virella Neurosurgery has offices in Agoura Hills, Valencia and Palmdale, CA. Contact us today!