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What Causes Canal Stenosis?


Canal stenosis can be a source of debilitating pain that takes you away from your family, friends, work and favorite activities. If you have been diagnosed with this condition, there are a wide range of effective treatment options that can help you find relief. By learning more about the causes and the steps you can take to find relief, you can give yourself the best chance of overcoming canal stenosis symptoms and getting back to the people and activities you love. 

Take some time to read over this informative guide. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to one of our representatives to learn more about finding relief at USA Spine Care. 

Canal stenosis explained

Canal stenosis is a term describing narrowing in the central spinal canal. This is a more specific form of spinal stenosis, often used in comparison to foraminal stenosis, which is narrowing of the small openings between vertebrae that allow nerve roots to exit. 

The central spinal canal is a tunnel, made by the bony arches on the rear of the vertebrae, that protects the spinal cord as it travels from the brain to the rest of the body. The spinal canal plays a key role in protecting this critical part of the central nervous system. If canal stenosis develops, it can cause disruption of the spinal cord that results in pain, neuropathic symptoms and mobility problems. 

Causes of canal stenosis include the natural aging process

Although canal stenosis can occur as a result of traumatic injury or repetitive motion injuries, the most common cause is the natural aging process. As we get older, our bodies lose water content, which makes tissue more brittle and less elastic. In the spine, this process affects spinal anatomy, particularly the facet joints and rubbery spinal discs. 

As these parts of the spine begin to break down as a result of conditions such as degenerative disc disease and spinal arthritis, it can cause displacement in the spinal column. Because the spine is already so tightly packed, even a slight displacement of anatomy can result in narrowing of the spinal canal. 

Canal stenosis is not painful by itself, but since it often results in compression of the spinal cord, the following symptoms can often result:

  • Neck pain
  • Low back pain
  • Shooting pain in the extremities
  • Tingling and numbness
  • Muscle weakness and leg pain 

Diagnosing and treating canal stenosis

Anyone experiencing any of the above symptoms should see a doctor for prompt diagnosis and treatment. Canal stenosis pain can worsen over time due to the progressive nature of spinal degeneration. To diagnose spinal stenosis, doctors perform a thorough evaluation, including a review of medical history, physical examination, movement tests and diagnostic imagery such as an MRI.

Upon diagnosis, canal stenosis treatment will generally begin with a course of nonsurgical options, including:

  • Getting rest as needed
  • Taking over-the-counter medication
  • Alternating cold compression to relieve inflammation with a heating pad to relieve tense muscles and improve blood flow
  • Undergoing physical therapy
  • Modifying activities and practicing a spine-healthy lifestyle
  • Receiving a corticosteroid injection 

If weeks or months of conservative therapy do not bring the relief necessary for a good quality of life, your doctor or other treatment professional may recommend considering surgery.

Surgical options for canal stenosis

The primary goal of any procedure for canal stenosis is to access the spinal column at the point of narrowing and remove the damaged spinal material that is causing pain and other symptoms. The specific procedure depends on the location of the canal stenosis and the extent of spinal degeneration. 

One common minimally invasive procedure to treat canal stenosis is a laminotomy, which involves removing a small portion of bone on a segment of the spinal canal. This helps to decompress the spinal canal and relieve nerve compression. 

In other cases, a fusion or stabilization procedure may be required if there is significant degeneration and instability in the spinal column. Thanks to advances in technology, these procedures can often be performed on an outpatient basis with minimally invasive techniques. 

Reach out to USA Spine Care to Learn about canal stenosis relief

At USA Spine Care, we’re committed to helping patients find relief from degenerative spine conditions such as canal stenosis. From pain-relieving injections to minimally invasive outpatient spine surgery, our multidisciplinary team can help you develop a treatment plan that is right for you. 

Contact us today to learn more. 

Canal Stenosis Quick Answers

Is canal stenosis the same as spinal stenosis?

Canal stenosis is a specific type of the broader term spinal stenosis. Spinal stenosis, which describes narrowing in the spinal column, can occur in multiple areas of the spine. Canal stenosis refers to narrowing in the central spinal canal that protects the spinal cord. 

What is the best treatment for canal stenosis?

In most cases, the first line of treatment for canal stenosis is conservative therapy. This includes rest, medication, hot and/or cold therapy, physical therapy and pain relieving steroid injections. Surgery is usually seen as a last resort treatment or required in rare emergency situations. 


What happens if you let canal stenosis go untreated?

Canal stenosis is typically related to natural age-related degeneration of the spine and is therefore a progressive condition. Ignoring or delaying treatment of canal stenosis can potentially lead to worsening symptoms, including pain, tingling, numbness and muscle weakness both locally and in the extremities. Taking a proactive approach to treatment gives patients with canal stenosis the best chance of achieving a positive outcome. 

Is surgery needed for canal stenosis?

Patients will usually begin to consider surgery for canal stenosis if weeks or months of conservative therapy have not brought the relief necessary for a good quality of life. The goal of surgery is to relieve narrowing in the spinal canal and nerve compression by removing the displaced anatomy that is causing it. The exact procedure will depend on the underlying condition that is causing canal stenosis. 

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