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What is the process for diagnosing spinal stenosis?

Diagnosing spinal stenosis should always involve a full evaluation conducted by your doctor. While many people may read about the symptoms of spinal stenosis and assume they have the condition, self-diagnosis can be tricky because spinal stenosis symptoms like numbness, weakness and tingling can resemble symptoms of other conditions. To learn about conditions related to spinal vertebrae and joints, visit our degenerative disc disease page.

Spinal stenosis is defined as a narrowing of either the spinal canal or the small spaces nerve roots use to exit the spine. This constriction can create painful compression on your spinal cord or the nerve roots. The most common cause is osteoarthritis — a condition that wears down the cartilage cushioning the joints in the spine. Read on for more information about the spinal stenosis diagnosis process and the treatments available to ease your symptomsand help you get back to your daily routine.

How spinal stenosis is diagnosed

If you are experiencing pain in your neck or back, reach out to your doctor immediately. Properly diagnosing spinal stenosis is the first step to getting effective treatment. When seeing your primary care doctor regarding a potential spinal stenosis diagnosis, you will generally start with a thorough medical history and physical exam performed by your doctor. Here you can describe your symptoms and how your life is being affected in order to get closer to the potential cause.

The primary way of reaching an exact diagnosis for spinal stenosis is with imaging tests. These can determine the location and extent of your nerve compression. Examples of imaging tests include:

  • X-ray — which is basic imaging that is able to detect some conditions on a broad level
  • MRI — which is a magnetic resonance imaging test that can provide a more detailed look at spinal stenosis
  • CT scan — which is a computer-assisted X-ray that can provide a cross-sectional view of the spine
  • Myelogram — which is a kind of imaging that uses dye to provide a high-contrast image, making conditions like spinal stenosis easier to detect

You can get your life back from spinal stenosis

Initial treatment options prescribed by a doctor may include over-the-counter medication to reduce pain and inflammation, as well as strengthening and stretching exercises. Visit our physical therapy for spinal stenosis page to read about this form of treatment. Surgery is usually not required for you to experience an easing of symptoms and a return to normal activity.

On occasion, several weeks and months of these treatments do not bring the expected results of reduced pain and increased mobility. If you have been recommended for surgery but have doubts regarding the risks involved with traditional open back surgery, there are other options available for lasting pain relief. For instance, USA Spine Care offers minimally invasive spine surgery, which is a safer and effective alternative to traditional open neck or back procedures.^

Our team of highly skilled surgeons can treat spinal stenosis by using a small incision and muscle-sparing techniques to perform a minimally invasive decompression or stabilization surgery. These procedures offer shorter recovery times^ and a better chance of regaining an active lifestyle. Contact our dedicated team with any questions or concerns you may have about our minimally invasive spine surgery.

USA Spine Care is the leader in minimally invasive spine surgery and has helped more than 75,000 patients find relief from chronic neck or back pain. Reach out to us today for a no-cost MRI review* and to find out if you are a candidate for our spinal stenosis surgery. We are here to get you back to the activities you love.

Learn more today

If you're living with spinal stenosis in the upper spine and searching for relief, reach out to USA Spine Care for help. Our multidisciplinary team is dedicated to helping people develop the right care plan to  reach treatment goals and achieve lasting relief.

Contact us today to learn more. Call toll free 1-866-249-1627.

Spinal Stenosis "Quick Answers"

Depending on the region and severity Spinal stenosis feels like tingling, burning and/or weakness in the hands, arms, neck, lower back or legs. It may also feel like a radiating pain or shooting shock-like pain. Read more in the links below: Spinal Stenosis Spinal Stenosis Overview Defining Spinal Stenosis Researching Spinal Stenosis Learning About Back Stenosis Spinal Stenosis Pathophysiology
The types of spinal stenosis are region based and consist of cervical (neck), thoracic (mid back) and lumbar or lower back. In addition, foraminal stenosis is the narrowing of the foramen. Read more in the links below: Spinal Stenosis of the Neck Cervical Stenosis - Basic Facts Neck Stenosis Causes Neck Stenosis Treatment Central Canal Stenosis Lumbar Spinal Stenosis Spinal Stenosis in the Back
Spinal Stenosis is the narrowing of the spinal canal. This condition, most often located in the Lumbar spine, may be caused by degeneration of the spine, wear and tear, sports injury, & collapsing discs. Read more in the links below. What Causes Spinal Stenosis? Obesity May Lead to a Stenosis Diagnosis Age and its Role in the Development of Spinal Stenosis Spinal Stenosis Causes Identifying Common Causes From Birth Defects to Getting Older Degenerative Conditions Car Accident Injuries
The symptoms of spinal stenosis include tingling or numbness in the extremities, pain and weakness in the neck, back and/or legs. In severe cases bladder, bowel dysfunction/continence. Learn more in the links below: What Are the Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis? Spinal Stenosis Symptoms Spinal Stenosis Diagnosis What Should I Do If I Think I Have Spinal Stenosis? Spinal Stenosis and Hand Pain Recognizing Spinal Stenosis Have You Been Diagnosed? About Your Diagnosis Diagnostic Process Helping Your Physician How a Diagnosis Is Made Arriving at a Diagnosis
Physician specialties that treat spinal stenosis include: Pain management & rehabilitation physicians, spine surgeons, orthopedic specialists & neurosurgeons. Read more about these specialties in the links below: Doctors Who Treat Spinal Stenosis Spinal Decompression Doctors
Patients can expect recovery to last 4-6 weeks in most cases (depending on the complexity of your condition). People who choose minimally invasive spine surgery recover faster and get back to work sooner than those who choose open back surgery. Read more in the links below: Recovery After a Procedure What to Expect Recovery Times

  • Problems from anesthesia.
  • A deep infection in the surgical wound.
  • A skin infection.
  • Blood clots.
  • Nerve injury, including weakness, numbness, or paralysis.
  • Tears in the fibrous tissue that covers the spinal cord and the nerve near the spinal cord. These tears may require more surgery.
  • Trouble passing urine, or loss of bladder or bowel control.
  • Long-term (chronic) pain, which happens after surgery in some cases.
  • The chance that the surgery won't relieve your symptoms. And even if you get better with surgery, there is a chance that you may get new symptoms in the future.
  • Death from problems caused by surgery, but this is rare.

Read more in the links below: Overview of Risk Factors Most Common Risk Factors Obesity & Spinal Stenosis Spinal Stenosis & Arthritis Treating Elderly Patients

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