Lateral recess stenosis is a common spine condition that is characterized by a narrowing of the space within the rear sides of the spinal canal. This specific compartment, known as the lateral recess, serves as an important passageway for nerve roots to branch away from the spinal cord and carry motor and sensory signals to other areas of the body. As this already limited space grows narrower, the potential for painful nerve root compression increases.
Spinal nerve compression can sometimes lead to neck or back pain and other discomfort that interferes with daily activities and quality of life. The key to finding meaningful relief is an early and accurate diagnosis. After diagnosing lateral recess stenosis and pinpointing its underlying cause, a physician can recommend an appropriate treatment plan.
Symptoms of lateral recess stenosis
When a spinal nerve root becomes irritated, pinched or compressed due to lateral recess stenosis, a number of uncomfortable symptoms can develop. Depending on the specific nerve root affected, the associated discomfort can take the form of:
Neck or back pain that progresses gradually
Pain that radiates from the neck down one arm
Pain that radiates from the lower back down one leg
Arm or leg muscle weakness
Numbness, heaviness, burning or tingling sensations in an arm or leg
A stiff neck
Where the symptoms are felt depends on the location of the compressed nerve root. Lateral recess stenosis can be classified into three basic types — left, right and bilateral recess stenosis. Left lateral recess stenosis means a nerve root on the left side of the spine is compressed, causing symptoms on the left side of the body (the left arm or leg, for example). Right lateral recess stenosis will affect the right side of the body, and bilateral recess stenosis can lead to symptoms on both sides of the body.
Diagnosis of lateral recess stenosis
To confirm or rule out a diagnosis of lateral recess stenosis, a physician will typically review a patient’s medical history, perform a physical examination, discuss the symptoms and order one or more imaging studies, such as an X-ray, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or computed tomography (CT) scan. An important step in finalizing a diagnosis is identifying the specific cause of the narrowing.
Causes of lateral recess stenosis
In most cases, lateral recess stenosis is an effect of a secondary degenerative spine condition, such as:
A bulging or herniated disc
Degenerative disc disease
An enlarged facet joint
A thickened spinal ligament
A misaligned vertebra (spondylolisthesis)
A bone spur
Spinal inflammation (osteoarthritis)
Treatment of lateral recess stenosis
If there is minimal nerve involvement or the resulting symptoms are relatively mild and tolerable, lateral recess stenosis can usually be treated conservatively. To get started, a physician may recommend one or more nonsurgical therapies, such as:
Activity modifications — to avoid any movements that involve bending or twisting the spine
Physical therapy — including specific stretches and exercises designed to increase flexibility, strength and circulation
Postural improvement — to properly align the spinal column and reduce pressure on the neck and back
A heating pad or ice pack — applied directly to a painful area as needed
Over-the-counter and prescription medications — to relieve pain and reduce inflammation
A brace — to help support the spine during painful episodes
To address symptoms that persist or worsen after several weeks or months of conservative treatment, a surgical procedure may be an appropriate next step. For instance, a surgeon may be able to decompress an affected nerve by performing a laminectomy to create additional space within the lateral recess. More specifically, this surgical procedure involves the removal of a vertebral bone known as the lamina.
If you’re interested in exploring your surgical treatment options for lateral recess stenosis, contact USA Spine Care. Our team can tell you about the benefits of our minimally invasive outpatient surgery, which is a safer and effective alternative to a highly invasive open neck or back procedure.^ We can also provide you with a free MRI review* to help you determine if you are a candidate for our minimally invasive surgery.
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.
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 ProcedureWhat to ExpectRecovery Times
Problems from anesthesia.
A deep infection in the surgical wound.
A skin infection.
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.
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^Results are typical, but not guaranteed, each patients experience with spine surgery will differ.
For more information, visit usaspinecare.com/results. The information contained on this website is for educational purposes only, and is not intended to serve as a replacement for a medical diagnosis.
*Our MRI review is an informational review of the MRI report that you provide to us and is not a form of diagnosis. A diagnosis and a final determination of whether you may benefit from treatment at USA Spine Care can only be made after you have been physically examined by our medical professionals at USA Spine Care. The MRI review has no value and will not be billed.