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Overview of lateral recess stenosis

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
  • Leg cramps
  • Numbness, heaviness, burning or tingling sensations in an arm or leg
  • A stiff neck
  • Headaches

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
  • Facet syndrome
  • 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.

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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