Canal stenosis is a term that describes narrowing in the central spinal canal. This is the passageway formed by bony arches in each of the individual vertebrae that helps to protect the spinal cord. The narrowing can occur due to a range of different causes, including bulging discs, bone spurs, joint inflammation and other issues.
The reason why canal stenosis can be such a difficult condition to live with is because narrowing of the central canal can cause compression of the spinal cord and nerve roots. Because this important nerve pathway is responsible for transmitting information between the brain and rest of the body, the symptoms of canal stenosis can be highly painful and debilitating.
If you are looking for ways to relieve pain and other symptoms, learning about the typical treatment process for canal stenosis can be beneficial. By having a greater understanding of treatment options, from physical therapy to minimally invasive procedures, you can make a more confident care decision as you seek the relief you deserve.
Step one — work with a doctor to understand your diagnosis and begin conservative therapies
Canal stenosis is often the result of natural age-related changes and is typically progressive in nature. This means that symptoms may start out as mild and get worse over time. For this reason, it’s important to take neck or back pain seriously and see a doctor for any symptoms that don’t improve in a short period of time.
For many patients dealing with pain and other symptoms, canal stenosis will be the underlying cause. Physicians reach a diagnosis by reviewing patient medical history, asking questions about symptoms, performing a physical examination and ordering any necessary diagnostic tests. In non-emergency cases of canal stenosis, treatment usually begins with a course of conservative therapies that are designed to relieve pain and increase function.
This can range from periods of rest to take pressure off the spine to taking over-the-counter medication to relieve pain and inflammation. Additionally, a number of patients use alternating hot and cold therapy to relax tense muscles, improve circulation, reduce swelling and provide temporary numbness.
Step two — make any recommended lifestyle adjustments that can help decrease stress on the spinal canal
While the primary cause of canal stenosis is the aging process and natural degeneration, it is also caused by the sheer amount of pressure that is placed on the spine every day. In addition to protecting the spinal cord, the spine is responsible for holding the body upright. Over time, a wide range of forces that increase stress on the spine can speed up degeneration, contributing to or worsening canal stenosis.
Upon diagnosis of canal stenosis, your doctor will use your medical history and information about your lifestyle to identify and address any risk factors that may be affecting your spine health. This can include carrying extra weight, postural and mechanical issues, muscle weakness or atrophy in the neck or back, tobacco use and an unhealthy diet.
While making lifestyle changes does not directly relieve pain caused by canal stenosis, it can help in the long run. For example, by getting regular exercise that strengthens core muscles, patients can relieve pressure on the spinal canal caused by displaced spinal anatomy. Maintaining a healthy weight is also important, as it reduces the overall pressure on the spine while walking, sitting or standing.
Step three — fully explore advanced conservative treatments
If basic conservative treatments and lifestyle changes do not relieve pain and allow for a good quality of life, there are still nonsurgical options to pursue before undergoing surgery. Two common options, that are often used together, are physical therapy and therapeutic injections.
These more advanced forms of conservative treatment for canal stenosis help in the following ways:
- Physical therapy — While often associated with serious injuries and surgical rehabilitation, working with a physical therapist can help canal stenosis patients relieve pain and improve function. Active and passive exercises and stretches can work to strengthen the core and increase range of motion. Manual therapies help to release painful areas, improve circulation and flexibility. Finally, posture and movement training can help patients learn to evenly distribute weight and avoid painful mechanics.
- Therapeutic injections — A common treatment for canal stenosis are epidural steroid injections. These are an injection of a corticosteroid and a numbing agent that are injected into the epidural space of the spinal cord. Patients can find these injections can relieve pain and inflammation for weeks and months. While not a permanent solution, therapeutic injections can help patients regain activity, which can help strengthen the spine and complete physical therapy programs that may not have been possible otherwise.
Additionally, some patients with canal stenosis also pursue certain alternative treatments, such as chiropractic care or acupuncture. Although not fully supported by medical evidence, some people do report improvements when attempting these treatments as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. It is important to keep your doctor informed when pursuing any new form of therapy to ensure that it is compatible with existing treatments.
Step four — understand your surgical options, including minimally invasive procedures
Canal stenosis surgery generally becomes a consideration when patients have exhausted conservative approaches without finding pain relief and an acceptable quality of life. The basic goal of any canal stenosis procedure is to open up the spinal canal to relieve pressure on the spinal cord. There are several approaches to this, including decompression procedures and stabilization procedures, otherwise known as spinal fusions.
The type of procedure will depend on the patient’s specific condition, overall spine health and medical history. However, it is also important to understand that the surgical methods used can have an affect on the outcome.
Due to the continued development of surgical techniques and technological advancements, surgeons have developed minimally invasive canal stenosis procedures. This type of surgery requires only a small incision, minimizes disruption and displacement of surrounding tissue and can be performed on an outpatient basis.
Because minimally invasive spine surgery can be performed at an ambulatory surgery center, it offers advantages compared to hospital-based procedures, including a reduced risk of infection.
Reach out to the experts in canal stenosis care
To learn more about the full range of pain relief therapies for canal stenosis, reach out to USA Spine Care today. We’ll help you better understand your treatment options so you can get back to the active lifestyle you deserve.
Canal Stenosis Quick Answers:
How do you fix canal stenosis?
Canal stenosis is an age-related condition that can typically be treated with conservative treatments. Although these do not “fix” canal stenosis, they can offer significant pain relief. Surgery can become an option if weeks or months of conservative treatment is not effective. In these procedures, surgeons will remove displaced and damaged material to open up the spine and relieve nerve compression.
Is canal stenosis the same as spinal stenosis?
Canal stenosis is a specific form of spinal stenosis that involves narrowing of the central spinal canal. Spinal stenosis is a broader term that also includes foraminal stenosis and lateral recess stenosis.
What is the best treatment for canal stenosis?
The best treatment for canal stenosis depends on the individual patient and is affected by severity, underlying conditions and medical history. Often conservative options such as rest, over-the-counter medication and physical therapy can be highly effective in relieving symptoms. In other situations surgery may be recommended.
Is canal stenosis a disability?
Canal stenosis can be a highly debilitating condition in more serious cases but it is not always a disability. Many patients with canal stenosis can manage the condition effectively and enjoy a regular activity level.