Spinal Stenosis

Reducing your pain and helping you manage your life

Spinal stenosis occurs with the narrowing of the spine or the collapse of the bones of the spine most often caused by osteoarthritis. A common condition, spinal stenosis occurs as part of the normal aging process.

Some people with spinal stenosis do not know they have the condition because they do not experience any symptoms. Others experience pain as the spinal stenosis begins to worsen. Stenosis happens when the degeneration of the spinal column changes the alignment of the natural spine. As arthritis develops in the spine, the tube of the spinal column shrinks and nerves become pinched. This can create pain in your back, neck and legs.

Spinal stenosis can happen anywhere along your spine, but most often occurs in the lower (lumbar) back. Symptoms commonly associated with spinal stenosis include leg weakness and pain. If you experience shooting pains in your legs or severe weakness, you should call your physician right away.

Types

Two kinds of spinal stenosis exist, including:

  • Degenerative
  • Congenital

Arthritis causes degenerative spinal stenosis and most often occurs in people age 50 or older, although it can affect younger people as well. As you age, your bones become brittle. The wear and tear of supporting your body can weaken your spine, which begins to deteriorate.

Congenital spinal stenosis occurs at birth when people are born with a smaller spinal canal. These patients experience similar symptoms but at a much earlier age.

Diagnosis

Physicians diagnose spinal stenosis using imaging technology to visualize your spine and spinal cord. Imaging tests used include:

If your physician suspects spinal stenosis, he or she may perform a CT scan with contrasting dye (myelogram) to further examine your spinal cord.

Overview

Some people with spinal stenosis do not know they have the condition because they do not experience any symptoms. Others experience pain as the spinal stenosis begins to worsen. Stenosis happens when the degeneration of the spinal column changes the alignment of the natural spine. As arthritis develops in the spine, the tube of the spinal column shrinks and nerves become pinched. This can create pain in your back, neck and legs.

Spinal stenosis can happen anywhere along your spine, but most often occurs in the lower (lumbar) back. Symptoms commonly associated with spinal stenosis include leg weakness and pain. If you experience shooting pains in your legs or severe weakness, you should call your physician right away.

Types

Two kinds of spinal stenosis exist, including:

  • Degenerative
  • Congenital

Arthritis causes degenerative spinal stenosis and most often occurs in people age 50 or older, although it can affect younger people as well. As you age, your bones become brittle. The wear and tear of supporting your body can weaken your spine, which begins to deteriorate.

Congenital spinal stenosis occurs at birth when people are born with a smaller spinal canal. These patients experience similar symptoms but at a much earlier age.

Diagnosis

Physicians diagnose spinal stenosis using imaging technology to visualize your spine and spinal cord. Imaging tests used include:

If your physician suspects spinal stenosis, he or she may perform a CT scan with contrasting dye (myelogram) to further examine your spinal cord.

When spinal stenosis affects your ability to walk, run or do physical activity, your physicians will offer expertise in therapies to reduce or remove the cause of your pain. Your physicians make it as easy as possible for you to receive a diagnosis and necessary treatments, all in one place.

Your physicians’ affiliation with the IU School of Medicine helps them deliver the latest therapies and stay actively involved in ongoing research to improve your care.

IU Health physicians lead research and clinical trials designed to advance treatment options for spinal stenosis.

Your treatment for spinal stenosis depends on the severity of your pain. Your physicians will employ a variety of steps for pain management. They often use conservative measures first before turning to surgery. If symptoms involve motor weakness and loss of bowel control, surgery becomes a priority to preserve nerve functions.

Physical Interventions

To improve your symptoms and help you feel better, your physician may recommend exercises, physical therapy and care from a chiropractor to strengthen your back.

Medications

If you experience burning pain, steroidal and non-steroidal medicines can help reduce the inflammation that causes the pain. Medicines do not provide a first line or mainstay treatment, but they can help reduce symptoms.

Interventional Pain Procedures

Your physicians may consider pain management in your care to allow you to take part in physical therapy without pain. A physiatrist can inject a steroid and a local anesthetic into the spinal canal to stop the pain. Your physiatrist can do this in a therapeutic way to affect a larger portion of the spinal canal. A more targeted approach, called a nerve block can block the function of specific nerves causing pain. It can help diagnose the origination of the pain as well as stop the pain.

Surgery

Your physicians reserve spinal operations for patients who get no relief from physical therapy and pain management techniques. They perform different types of spinal surgery depending on the state of your spinal stenosis.

Spinal Fusion

To give your nerves and spinal cord the room they need, your neurosurgeon may perform surgery to realign and stabilize your spine. Spinal fusion fuses the vertebrae together using spinal implants to stabilize the unstable boney segments. An intra operative CT scanner/ O-arm helps your surgeon with minimally invasive screw placement.

Laminectomy

This procedure, using open surgery or minimally invasive techniques, relieves pressure on your spinal cord. Your neurosurgeon removes scar tissue or bone that causes a narrowing of the spinal canal.

Urgent Intervention

If you experience progressive weakness in your legs and sudden loss of bowel and bladder control, immediate surgery may help right away. These symptoms can indicate Cauda Equina Syndrome, caused by severe nerve compression. Surgery can prevent permanent nerve damage.

Treatment

When spinal stenosis affects your ability to walk, run or do physical activity, your physicians will offer expertise in therapies to reduce or remove the cause of your pain. Your physicians make it as easy as possible for you to receive a diagnosis and necessary treatments, all in one place.

Your physicians’ affiliation with the IU School of Medicine helps them deliver the latest therapies and stay actively involved in ongoing research to improve your care.

IU Health physicians lead research and clinical trials designed to advance treatment options for spinal stenosis.

Your treatment for spinal stenosis depends on the severity of your pain. Your physicians will employ a variety of steps for pain management. They often use conservative measures first before turning to surgery. If symptoms involve motor weakness and loss of bowel control, surgery becomes a priority to preserve nerve functions.

Physical Interventions

To improve your symptoms and help you feel better, your physician may recommend exercises, physical therapy and care from a chiropractor to strengthen your back.

Medications

If you experience burning pain, steroidal and non-steroidal medicines can help reduce the inflammation that causes the pain. Medicines do not provide a first line or mainstay treatment, but they can help reduce symptoms.

Interventional Pain Procedures

Your physicians may consider pain management in your care to allow you to take part in physical therapy without pain. A physiatrist can inject a steroid and a local anesthetic into the spinal canal to stop the pain. Your physiatrist can do this in a therapeutic way to affect a larger portion of the spinal canal. A more targeted approach, called a nerve block can block the function of specific nerves causing pain. It can help diagnose the origination of the pain as well as stop the pain.

Surgery

Your physicians reserve spinal operations for patients who get no relief from physical therapy and pain management techniques. They perform different types of spinal surgery depending on the state of your spinal stenosis.

Spinal Fusion

To give your nerves and spinal cord the room they need, your neurosurgeon may perform surgery to realign and stabilize your spine. Spinal fusion fuses the vertebrae together using spinal implants to stabilize the unstable boney segments. An intra operative CT scanner/ O-arm helps your surgeon with minimally invasive screw placement.

Laminectomy

This procedure, using open surgery or minimally invasive techniques, relieves pressure on your spinal cord. Your neurosurgeon removes scar tissue or bone that causes a narrowing of the spinal canal.

Urgent Intervention

If you experience progressive weakness in your legs and sudden loss of bowel and bladder control, immediate surgery may help right away. These symptoms can indicate Cauda Equina Syndrome, caused by severe nerve compression. Surgery can prevent permanent nerve damage.

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