What Is Spinal Stenosis?
As people age, the structure of the spine can change, and the space available in the spinal canal can shrink, constricting the spinal cord and nerves. This condition is known as spinal stenosis. If only minimal narrowing occurs in the spine, then typically little discomfort will be experienced. However, more severe restriction in the spinal column can result in leg, buttock, or low back pain, numbness, weakness, or tingling, particularly when walking or standing.
Spinal stenosis can develop from common structural shifts in an aging spine including:
- Thickening of the ligaments and other connective tissues
- Bony spurs produced by arthritis that encroach on the spinal nerves
- Intervertebral discs can get pushed back toward the spinal nerves
Spinal stenosis tends to occur among older adults, and arthritis and injuries can also accelerate the narrowing of the spinal canal.
How Is Spinal Stenosis Treated?
An array of non-surgical treatments exist to help relieve the symptoms of spinal stenosis including:
- Exercise and strengthening – A physical therapy and exercise regimen is a component of almost every spinal stenosis treatment program. It is important to keep the spine active and as flexible as possible to avoid increased debilitation from inactivity.
- Epidural injection – A simple, safe and effective non-surgical treatment that involves the injection of a steroid medication like cortisone into the epidural space of the spine (the area of the spine where inflamed nerves and other structures that cause the pain are located).
<liMedication – Anti-inflammatory medicines (such as aspirin or ibuprofen) may help alleviate spinal stenosis symptoms. Under supervised use, a short-term prescription of narcotic or opioid medication use may be useful for severe episodes of nerve-related pain.
When conservative treatment methods fail to provide sustained relief of spinal stenosis symptoms, surgery may be considered as a last resort. That was the case for Janet. Alternative treatments for the pain and numbness in her back and legs had failed to resolve her problem, and her condition was getting worse.
“Dr. Husted went straight to the point, which I like,” says Janet. “He told me everything that I needed to know and made me feel comfortable and secure in having the surgery done. He told me exactly what would happen.”
How Is Spinal Stenosis Surgery Performed?
The goal of spinal stenosis surgery is to relieve the pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots by creating more space within the spinal canal. Research shows that when performed by a highly experienced and qualified surgeon, spine surgeries are more successful and result in fewer complications.
The gold standard for surgical treatment of spinal stenosis is a laminectomy. The procedure involves removing the back part of the affected vertebra (also known as decompression surgery). Sometimes the vertebra may need to be joined to adjacent vertebrae with metal components and a bone graft to stabilize the spine, known as spinal fusion. Over time, the vertebrae will fuse and come together as one bone. Modern minimally-invasive techniques may use smaller incisions to access the narrowed spinal column, conserving healthy soft tissue.
Recovering After Spinal Stenosis Surgery
Many patients experience significant improvement in their symptoms after surgery and can return to their daily routine in just a few weeks. Working together with a certified physical therapist, most patients will attain a complete recovery in about six weeks after surgery. Every patient’s recovery time both in the hospital, after surgery, and during the rehabilitation process depends on their medical history, lifestyle, and the nature of the procedure.
“For the first little while, Dr. Husted said I would need a walker and then, possibly a cane, which I didn’t end up needing,” says Janet. “He told me the number of weeks that each thing would happen and about how much better I could expect to be after a certain period of time.”
Grateful for her successful health journey, Janet does not hesitate to recommend Dr. Husted and spine surgery to anyone suffering from what she went through. “I would advise not to wait to (have surgery) done,” she says. “Do it as soon as possible, to let you be able to live your life as you want to live it. I had missed family reunions because I couldn’t go. I couldn’t ride in the car. I’m looking forward to a brighter future.”