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What is the difference between degenerative and congenital canal stenosis?

When discussing canal stenosis, your physician may refer to one of two different types: degenerative stenosis or congenital stenosis. Canal stenosis, which is characterized by a narrowing of the spinal canal, is often classified based on its underlying cause. For instance, some people are born with an exceptionally narrow spinal canal, which means that the trait is congenital (inherited from a parent). On the other hand, degenerative changes in the spine can also lead to the onset of canal stenosis during adulthood.

Of the two main types of canal stenosis, the degenerative version is far more prevalent, because degenerative changes take place naturally in the spine along with the aging process. As degenerative spine conditions such as osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease develop, they can simultaneously cause canal stenosis. That’s because these conditions often produce excess tissue in the form of damaged discs, bone spurs and inflamed ligaments, all of which can take up space within the spinal canal and cause it to become narrower.

Canal stenosis symptoms

In addition to the two overarching canal stenosis types, the condition may be further classified based on the severity of its symptoms. But, it’s important to first note that spinal narrowing does not always cause discomfort or require treatment. In fact, some people have asymptomatic canal stenosis for their entire lives and remain completely unaware of it.

The development of canal stenosis symptoms typically hinges on one key factor, which is whether the spinal narrowing results in nerve compression. If the spinal cord or a nerve root becomes irritated or pressured due to canal stenosis, the condition may be classified as severe. While some form of treatment is often required to address the symptoms of severe canal stenosis, surgery is not always necessary.

Treatment for canal stenosis

Medications and physical therapy are mainstays of conservative treatment for all types of canal stenosis. A physician can recommend a specific treatment plan based on a patient’s unique needs. After several weeks or months, surgery may be considered if nonsurgical therapies have not produced meaningful relief.

At USA Spine Care, our surgeons perform minimally invasive outpatient surgery to address all types of canal stenosis. Using a less than 1-inch incision, our procedures allow our patients to avoid the muscle disruption and lengthy recovery that typically follows traditional open spine surgery.^ If you’d like to learn more, contact USA Spine Care to request a no-cost MRI review.* Our team can answer your questions and help you determine if you are a candidate for our minimally invasive surgery.

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