Spinal stenosis is a medical condition in which the spinal canal narrows and compresses the spinal cord and nerves. This is usually due to the spinal degeneration that commonly occurs with aging. It can also sometimes be caused by osteoporosis, spinal disc herniation, or a tumor.
Spinal stenosis may affect the cervical, thoracic or lumbar spine.
- Tingling of the legs
Surgery for spinal stenosis is the most common spinal operation in people over the age of 50. However, spinal stenosis caused by developmental narrowing of the spinal canal may occur in people in their 20s and 30s.
Operations used to treat stenosis include:
- Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion — A small incision in the front of the neck is used to access the upper spine. The ruptured or herniated disc is removed and replaced with a small bone plug, which eventually grows to connect the two adjacent vertebrae.
- Cervical Corpectomy — Part of the vertebra and discs are removed and replaced with a bone graft or a metal plate and screws to support the spine.
- Decompressive Laminectory — The roof of the vertebrae, called the lamina, is surgically removed. The procedure also may include removing part of the disc or fusing the vertebrae (spinal fusion).
- Foramenotomy — The area where nerve roots leave the spinal canal, called the foramen, is removed. This procedure can be performed using a minimally invasive approach with an endoscope, an instrument that allows the surgeon to see inside the body through a tiny incision. The surgeon can then use other tiny incisions to perform the surgery, avoiding the discomfort and muscle atrophy associated with the traditional open technique that uses a large incision.
- Laminoplasty — The compressive bone in the back of the neck is gently lifted off of the spinal cord creating a new "roof" over the spinal cord and nerve roots. This procedure effectively decompresses the spinal cord over multiple segments without the need for fusion or hardware. It also minimizes the chance of spinal instability or deformity that may result from the traditional laminectomy procedure.
- Laminotomy — Only a small portion of the lamina is removed.
- Medial Facetectomy — Part of the bone structure in the spinal canal, called the facet, is removed.
- Cervical Disc Replacement — Instead of fusing the affected area, the natural disc material is replaced with a metal and plastic prosthesis that maintains or restores the motion segment. This will hopefully prevent degeneration of the next disc level.
Stenosis in the neck, also called the cervical spine, affects the upper part of the body including the arms and hands. Stenosis is the narrowing of the bony canal that protects the spinal cord and its branching nerves to the point where it injures the spinal cord or nerves.
This may be caused by a number of conditions including:
- Bone spurs
- Rupture of the spinal discs
Cervical stenosis may cause pain, numbness, or weakness in the legs. The pain may move from one part of the body to another but is often most noticeable in the neck.
If the stenosis is severe and is not responding to other treatment methods, surgery to widen the spinal canal may be necessary. Because bone continues to deteriorate, additional treatment may be needed several years after even successful surgery.
Stenosis in the lower back is called lumbar stenosis. It is often characterized by radiating pain in the buttocks and legs.
Frequently people afflicted with lumbar stenosis have varying degrees of low back discomfort. The pain typically occurs most often during activities and is relieved by resting, sitting or bending forward. In some cases, the pain is centralized in the lower legs and feet. In severe cases, it also can impact continence (bowel and bladder control) and sexual function.
The initial treatment for stenosis is to treat the symptoms rather than the condition itself. These treatments include:
- Posture changes, such as lying with the knees drawn up to the chest or leaning forward while walking, may relieve the pressure on the nerves
- Medication such as aspirin or ibuprofen to relieve inflammation and pain
- Physical therapy
- Losing weight
- Corticosteroid injections to reduce inflammation and relieve pain
- A cervical collar
If several months of treatment have not improved the symptoms, and if the stenosis is severe, surgery to widen the spinal canal may be necessary. Because bone continues to deteriorate, additional treatment may be needed several years after even successful surgery.