Symptoms and Treatment of Spinal Stenosis

Doctor treating senior patient with spinal stenosis

From the base of the skull to the tailbone, the bones and joints of the spinal column create a well-protected canal through which the spinal cord and nerves travel. In normal health, this spinal canal is wide enough to allow plenty of space for the neural elements within. When this canal becomes too narrow, and begins to press on the neural elements, the condition is referred to as spinal stenosis. If the narrowing occurs in the neck, it is referred to as cervical stenosis.  If the stenosis occurs in the lower back it is termed, lumbar stenosis. The team at Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine & Orthopedics can both diagnosis neck and back pain and determine the best treatment for spinal stenosis or any other spinal condition.

Cause of Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis usually results from degenerative, arthritic changes to the bones and joints of the spinal column called spondylosis. As people age, their bones and joints naturally succumb to daily wear and tear, in a process known as arthritis. Arthritic joints can become enlarged and deformed. When these arthritic changes occur in the spine, the overgrown joints, ligaments, or bone spurs can crowd into the spinal canal which surrounds the spinal cord and its branching nerves.  The result is a stenotic level of the spinal canal that places pressure on the spinal cord and nerves.

Spinal stenosis is more common with age and can also occur because of an accident or injury. In the general population, only about one in twenty adults have spinal stenosis. The incidence of spinal stenosis in those over 70 is double to one in ten.

Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis

In general, spinal stenosis symptoms tend to be mild, and do not require aggressive intervention. Physical therapy for core and neck strengthening, postural training, and skeletal stabilization slows or reverses the progression of arthritic damage and joint overgrowth. Most people with stenosis can learn to manage their symptoms effectively and prevent recurrences.

If, however, spinal stenosis is moderate to severe, its resulting compression of neural compression causes painful electrical signals from the spinal cord and nerves. The pain can be quite significant.  If the cause is cervical stenosis, pain, weakness, numbness and loss of dexterity will be felt in both arms and may extend into the legs.  If the patient suffers from lumbar stenosis, the upper extremities will be spared but the patient will suffer from both legs being painful, weak, numb and having a difficult time balancing.

When this occurs, surgery involving a laminectomy will be warranted.  The CNSO neurosurgeon or orthopedic spine surgeon would restore the spinal canal to its normal size, providing the spinal cord and nerves the additional space needed to properly function.  After the surgery, all symptoms will resolve.

Treatment of Spinal Stenosis

When seeking treatment for spinal stenosis, be certain to work with an experienced, qualified spine specialists who understand the complexities of diagnosing spine ailments. Many symptoms, such as pain or tingling, cannot be measured by an outside observer and may result from common conditions unrelated to spinal stenosis. Many adults have slightly abnormal spine structures on an MRI, like a herniated disc, but do not have corresponding symptoms. In this case, no surgery should be offered as a treatment at a level of the spine that is not causing the symptoms. 

A spine specialist evaluating spinal stenosis must be willing to spend a great deal of time listening to patients and gathering clues as to where symptoms are originating from within their body. He or she must also conduct a detailed physical and neurological examination. It is only then that the spine specialist can make sense of a patient’s complicated MRI, with its many possible abnormal findings, and determine whether these findings are related to the patient’s specific symptoms and signs. The important point here is: If the initial diagnosis is incorrect, the treatment plan will fail, even if those treatments are performed well.

The vast majority of spinal stenosis patients will return to normal activity without surgery. The body has a remarkable capacity for healing, and the role of the spine specialist is to guide patients through this process quickly and prevent future recurrences of symptoms.

For the rare patients who do need may benefit from transforaminal or epidural injections or surgery to regain normal function, the neurosurgeon must have a broad range of skills and a proven record of technical mastery to assure optimal outcomes. Patients owe it to themselves to get treatment from the best neurosurgeons and spine specialists in the field.  In New Jersey, CNSO has several of these experts.

Contact CNSO for Evaluation and Treatment Today

The dedicated team at Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine, and Orthopedics (CNSO) understand how to quickly resolve neck and back problems. By working with this team of renowned, board-certified neurosurgeons, orthopedic spine surgeons, pain management doctors, physiatrists, rehabilitation specialists, and certified physical therapists, patients will receive comprehensive and coordinated care, so they can quickly resume a healthy, less painful lifestyle free from disability. CNSO offers multiple convenient locations spanning northern New Jersey, including offices in Bergen, Passaic, Morris, Essex, and Hudson counties. New Jersey and New York patients can learn more about effectively treating spinal stenosis by contacting the providers at CNSO today.

Centers for Neurosurgery Spine & Orthopedics