Spinal Stenosis

Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the open spaces within your spine, which can put pressure on your spinal cord and the nerves that travel through the spine to your arms and legs. Spinal stenosis occurs most often in the lower (lumbar) region and the cervical (neck) area. There are more than 200,000 cases of spinal stenosis each year in the United States, making it a highly treatable condition with a wide variety of options for relief.

Spinal Stenosis image

While some are born with a congenital form of spinal stenosis, the majority of patients develop this condition as part of the body’s natural aging process and due to general wear and tear of the spine. While it may not be initially apparent, most patients will eventually feel symptoms as the condition progresses.

Because spinal stenosis most often develops in the cervical or lumbar areas of the spine, it is important to keep track of the differences and symptoms to watch for:

  • Lumbar spinal stenosis

    It may be reminiscent of sciatica, as it causes tingling, weakness, numbness, and discomfort in the lower back that radiates through the legs. Patients typically report an increase in pain and symptoms when walking and while doing other lower body-centered activities.

  • Cervical spinal stenosis

    It is directly linked with spinal cord compression (known as myelopathy), which, in extreme cases, can cause very debilitating issues such as weakness or even paralysis. Additionally, patients suffering from cervical spinal stenosis may notice pain, tingling, and numbness that radiates from the neck through the shoulders and arms.

The narrowing associated with spinal stenosis is generally either within the spinal canal itself, the canals at the base of the spine or the openings between vertebrae. All of these areas also function as passages where sensitive nerve roots are located and where nerves enter and exit the spine. Even minor narrowing can cause significant pain because of the proximity between nerves and nerve roots.

Spinal Stenosis: Causes

Spinal stenosis can either be inherited or developed. Some of the most common causes include:

  • Aging
  • General wear and tear due to the body’s natural aging process
  • Genetic predisposition or congenital defect
  • Scoliosis, a curvature of the spine that places significant pressure onto area nerves and ligaments.
  • Bulging and herniated discs, which causes inflammation and pain when the gel-like inner material of a vertebral disc leaks into the spinal column and compresses nearby nerves
  • Arthritis, in which the protective cartilage surrounding the joints is worn away
  • Sudden and unexpected trauma and/or accident
  • Other health issues, such as spinal tumors or Paget’s disease

While a number of underlying conditions can contribute to spinal stenosis, it is most often attributed to aging and the eventual degeneration of the spine that comes with the aging process. This is why spinal stenosis is most common in men and women over 50 years old. However, younger people born with a genetic predisposition or who suffer a back injury can also develop this condition.

Spinal Stenosis: Symptoms

There may be no initial symptoms of spinal stenosis, or they may develop slowly and worsen over time. Symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Pain and discomfort in the back and/or neck
  • Numbness, weakness, cramping or pain that radiates into the arms and hands or legs and feet
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control, in certain extreme cases in which heavy pressure is placed onto nerves in the lower back

Many of the symptoms of spinal stenosis are similar to those of other spine conditions, which can make it difficult to differentiate one condition from another. Visiting a spine specialist right away is essential in order to obtain an accurate diagnosis. Once a patient’s condition is determined, this allows our physicians to build the most effective treatment plan to give each patient back their quality of life.

Spinal Stenosis: Non-Surgical Treatment Options

There are a variety of non-surgical treatment options for spinal stenosis. Our physicians may try one or a combination of many treatments to determine what works best for each patient. Some of the most commonly recommended conservative options include:

  • Anti-Inflammatory Medications

    To help alleviate pain and discomfort, you may try anti-inflammatory and pain relief medication, whether prescribed by a physician or ibuprofen purchased over-the-counter.

  • Physical Therapy

    Physical therapy can help patients regain strength in their muscles while maintaining the flexibility and stability of their spine. Specialized exercises designed to strengthen the spine can also help reduce pain.

  • Injections

    We offer a variety of steroid injections that target the precise nerve roots affected by spinal stenosis. These injections can relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and alleviate pressure. Most patients mention feeling relief right away.

  • Bracing

    Your doctor may recommend a specialized back brace to be worn during the day which can help with proper posture while taking pressure off the spine. Braces can also help to force back muscles to rest while encouraging healing.

Our Minimally Invasive Treatment Approach

We offer advanced procedures that can identify the exact location and cause of your spinal stenosis. This allows us to most effectively address it, based on your symptoms, the severity of your condition, and your individual health history. Before we determine that minimally invasive surgery is the best course of action, we will always recommend conservative treatments first. If your condition is causing loss of motor and/or bodily functions, or if initial conservative treatments have not been successful, we may recommend surgical options.

Common surgeries performed to treat spinal stenosis, such as laminectomies and laminoplasty, remove portions of affected vertebrae and create space inside the spinal canal. This generally reverses the narrowing that is part of spinal stenosis, takes pressure off of sensitive nerves and nerve roots, and relieves associated inflammation and pain.

Because our minimally invasive surgeries use small incisions and were designed to lessen trauma to surrounding areas, there is less blood loss and scarring involved versus a traditional open surgery. As a result, recovery times are generally much faster and patients experience relief fast.

About Us

The first in Texas to perform micro-endoscopic laser spine surgery with an incision as small as 3 mm, Dr. Won advises multiple international spine technology companies and has helped design many groundbreaking tools for the minimally invasive spine surgery industry.

Dr. Won also innovated the Pain Mapping procedures, this diagnostic study helps to pin point the pain generator so that we can provide the least invasive spine procedures, LuMINI.

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