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A complete guide to canal stenosis

Canal stenosis is a common condition in which the spinal canal gradually becomes narrower over time. Occasionally, it is referred to by the more descriptive term of spinal narrowing, or even canal stenosis. Typically, it is the result of nothing more than the ordinary aging process, although traumatic injuries and genetics can also play a role in its development.

Canal stenosis can develop in any part of the spine: the cervical spine (neck), thoracic spine (mid back) or the lumbar spine (lower back). It can be very minor — even undetectable, due to a lack of symptoms — or it can be quite severe. If a narrowed spinal canal leads to the compression of a nerve root or the spinal cord, several uncomfortable symptoms can occur.

Canal stenosis symptoms

The most common symptoms of canal stenosis are localized pain (at the site of the nerve root or spinal cord compression) and pain that travels along the path of the affected nerve. Other symptoms include:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Sciatica

In the case of cervical stenosis, symptoms affect the upper extremities, including the arms and hands, as well as the neck and shoulders. Thoracic stenosis produces symptoms in the torso and abdomen, while lumbar stenosis affects the lower back, hips, legs and feet.

Treating canal stenosis

If canal stenosis is not symptomatic, treatment may not be required. However, medications, physical therapy, activity modification and exercise can all help alleviate the pain caused by nerve root or spinal cord compression.

In some cases, it’s necessary to treat the compression itself. If conservative (nonsurgical) therapies do not produce the desired results, surgery might become an option.

Depending on the location and the severity of a patient’s canal narrowing, a physician may recommend traditional (open neck or back) surgery, or minimally invasive surgery as an outpatient alternative. At USA Spine Care, our board-certified surgeons+ perform minimally invasive surgeries for spinal stenosis, and our patients are up and walking within a few hours of surgery.^ To find out if you are a good candidate for our procedures, contact us today.

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