Spinal stenosis, the medical term for narrowing in the spinal column, is a very common condition, affecting hundreds of thousands of patients in the United States alone. Symptoms of spinal stenosis can range from mild to severe and debilitating, depending on the location and degree of compression of the spinal nerves. If you’ve been diagnosed with spinal stenosis, or even if you’re just researching potential sources of your neck or back pain, learning more about your options for pain relief can be helpful.
By gaining a clear understanding of the spinal stenosis pain relief journey, we hope you will be able to work closely with your treatment team to develop an effective and personalized treatment plan. Take a moment to read the following helpful overview and please feel free to reach out with any questions. The USA Spine Care team is here to help.
Step one: recognizing spinal stenosis symptoms
Spinal stenosis can be caused by a wide range of underlying conditions that displace spinal anatomy and constrict the passages of spinal nerves. This includes bulging discs, herniated discs, spinal arthritis and bone spurs. In most cases, these are caused by natural breakdown of spinal anatomy due to aging. Symptoms are generally the result of compression of spinal nerves due to this narrowing, including the spinal cord and the nerve roots that branch off into the rest of the body.
Symptoms vary by location of spinal stenosis, with cervical (upper) spinal stenosis causing neck pain and radiating symptoms into the shoulders, arms and hands. Lumbar (lower) spinal stenosis is more commonly associated with lower back pain and radiating symptoms into the lower extremities. Radiating symptoms include:
- Shooting pains
- Numbness and tingling
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle spasms and cramps
Anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek out a qualified medical professional for diagnosis and treatment.
Step two: getting a diagnosis from a qualified medical professional
A prompt diagnosis and treatment plan for spinal stenosis is so important because this tends to be a progressive condition that worsens over time. The earlier that patients can receive a diagnosis and commit to a treatment plan the better. Typical steps for diagnosing spinal stenosis include:
- A thorough review of medical history to determine if there is an elevated risk of developing a spine condition such as stenosis
- Discussion of specific symptoms and how they are affecting daily activities
- A hands-on examination and movement tests to determine if there are painful movements that cause increased compression of spinal nerves
- Diagnostic testing such as an X-ray or MRI to positively identify source of spinal stenosis or rule out other conditions with elevated risk due to medical history
If spinal stenosis turns out to be the cause of symptoms, you and your doctor can work together to develop an effective treatment plan based on your medical history and lifestyle needs.
Step three: exploring conservative therapies for pain relief
Spinal stenosis is usually first treated with nonsurgical options. The goal of conservative treatment is to relieve pain and improve function as much as possible to promote a healthy and active lifestyle. The most common therapeutic options include:
- Getting rest to take pressure off the spine
- Over-the-counter medication, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- Physical therapy to improve range of motion and strengthen supporting muscles
- Hot and/or cold compression therapy
- Anti-inflammatory corticosteroid injections to help relieve compression and irritation of spinal nerves
Very often, patients with spinal stenosis can find lasting relief from symptoms by thoroughly exploring conservative options. It is also important to focus on overall health and measures that can help improve spine health.
Step four: committing to a lifestyle changes
A healthy lifestyle is another important part of the spinal stenosis pain relief journey. Anything that puts extra pressure on the spinal column can contribute to spinal narrowing spinal nerve compression. This includes extra body weight, poor posture and not having a strong core. Additionally, inadequate nutrition and inflammatory foods also have the potential to contribute to spinal stenosis pain. This is why doctors recommend the following healthy lifestyle choices for patients diagnosed with spinal stenosis:
- Getting regular, low impact exercise
- Eating a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet that is rich in nutrients
- Focusing on proper posture and mechanics
- Starting a weight management program, if needed
- Avoiding tobacco usage and limiting alcohol consumption
It’s important to be patient when seeking long-term spinal stenosis pain relief. By finding the right combination of conservative therapies and spine-healthy lifestyle choices, many patients are able to overcome spinal stenosis pain and enjoy a good quality of life.
Step five: considering your surgical options
Spine surgery to relieve spinal stenosis can become a serious consideration if weeks or months of conservative treatment has not brought the relief necessary to engage in the activities of daily life. The goal of any surgery for spinal stenosis is to access the spine and relieve nerve compression by removing displaced or damaged spinal anatomy that is the source of narrowing.
Many patients look to avoid spine surgery due to the highly invasive nature of traditional open spine surgery. Additionally, hospital-based procedures increase the risk of complications such as infection.
Fortunately there is an alternative in the form of minimally invasive spine surgery. By using a small incision and muscle-sparing techniques, the highly skilled surgeons at USA Spine Care can access the source of spinal stenosis with far less disruption of soft tissue. The result is an outpatient procedure that helps patients get back on their feet and on the road to recovery.
To learn more about the full range of treatment options at USA Spine Care, including physical therapy, spinal injections and minimally invasive spine surgery, contact our dedicated team today.
Spinal Stenosis Quick Answers
What is the best treatment for spinal stenosis?
Spinal stenosis can very often be treated with conservative therapies such as rest, over-the-counter medication and physical therapy. If the condition worsens, spine surgery may become an option. This is especially true in cases of severe compression of spinal nerves.
Is Spinal stenosis a serious condition?
Spinal stenosis can range in severity from mild to severe. Mild cases may have little or no symptoms, while the most serious cases can result in a potentially life-threatening condition called cauda equina syndrome. Patients experiencing symptoms of bowel or bladder incontinence accompanied by loss of sensation or paralysis in the lower body should seek immediate medical attention.
What happens if spinal stenosis is left untreated?
Spinal stenosis is a progressive, age-related condition, which means it can get worse over time. Avoiding or postponing treatment can cause the rate of spinal degeneration to accelerate and potentially worsen symptoms. Although there is no way to reverse the natural aging process, taking a proactive approach to treatment can help lessen the severity of spinal stenosis.
Does spinal stenosis go away?
It is possible for an individual case of spinal stenosis to improve, particularly when the cause is acute. However, since spinal stenosis is typically related to age-related degeneration, it tends to be chronic in nature.