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Spinal narrowing

Spinal narrowing information

Spinal narrowing, a condition that is also known as spinal stenosis, refers to the reduction of the space in the spinal canal and nerve root exits. This shrinking space can lead to the pinching of nerve roots or the spinal cord itself, which can, in turn, lead to a number of problems.

Spinal narrowing diagnosis methods

Spinal stenosis shares many of its symptoms with other conditions, making it relatively difficult to properly diagnose. To help physicians understand precisely what is going on in a patient’s specific situation, they often order imaging tests (X-rays, CT scans or MRI tests) to get a visual of the issue.

Spinal narrowing causes

There are many causes of spinal narrowing, including:

  • The growth of bone spurs
  • Thickened ligaments that stiffen and bulge
  • Herniated discs with gel-like inner material that leaks into the spinal column
  • Spinal fractures that displace bones from their proper location
  • Tumors that grow within the spinal column

Also, some people are born with narrower spinal canals than others, making them more prone to stenosis issues if any of the spinal elements are out of place.

Spinal narrowing symptoms

Symptoms of spinal stenosis are caused by the constriction of the nerve roots or the spinal cord, and they can range from mild inconveniences to medical emergencies. For example, sudden weakness of the legs or loss of bladder control can indicate cauda equina syndrome — a serious condition that needs immediate professional attention. Other, less severe symptoms include:

  • Numbness of tingling of the extremities
  • Cramping, especially in the legs
  • Muscle weakness
  • Pain near the affected area of the spine
  • Radiating pain traveling along a pinched nerve

Spinal narrowing treatment options

Treatment for spinal narrowing differs from patient to patient. The location of the narrowing plays a part, as does the severity of the symptoms and their underlying cause. Most people find relief from their symptoms through a regimen of treatments that usually includes taking medication to reduce pain and inflammation, stretching and exercising regularly, attending physical therapy sessions and applying heat or ice to the affected areas. Some even have steroid injections to help relieve symptoms in more severe cases.

It should be noted that all of these approaches address the symptoms rather than the underlying problem. However, surgery to treat the stenosis is only considered in certain circumstances.

When might spinal narrowing surgery be needed?

If, after weeks or months of attempting more conservative treatments, a patient hasn’t found significant relief from symptoms, surgery may be an option. Traditional open spine surgery can be used to relieve the pressure on spinal nerves, but there are also less invasive options available for patients.

At Laser Spine Institute, we offer minimally invasive spine surgery that is often the clinically appropriate first choice for spinal narrowing surgery over traditional open neck or back procedures. Contact us today or more information about our approach, to learn about our Cincinnati surgery center, and to find out if you’re a candidate for surgery by getting a no-cost MRI review.*