Diagnosis of spinal stenosis
Your spinal cord travels through an opening called a canal in the center of your bony spinal column. Spinal stenosis is narrowing of the spinal canal and the spinal nerve passageways. When these openings narrow, it can press the nerves that branch from the spinal cord to the rest of your body.
If you are older than 50 and you are exhibiting any of the symptoms listed above, your doctor may suspect spinal stenosis.
Diagnosing spinal stenosis may include:
- Physical exam, including your ability to perform certain physical tasks like touching your toes
- Imaging studies, including a spinal X-ray and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
Other spinal conditions can cause symptoms similar to those of spinal stenosis. For example, a herniated spinal disc can cause pain and muscle weakness in the arms or legs. Your doctor will want to rule out these other possible causes of your symptoms.
Treatment of spinal stenosis
Treatment and prevention of spinal stenosis focuses on managing symptoms, opening up the spinal canal to relieve spinal cord compression, and protecting the health of your spine.
Common treatments include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen
- Epidural spinal injection
- Physical therapy
- Surgery if you don’t find relief with other treatments
Physical therapy for spinal stenosis
Although physical therapy cannot directly affect arthritis or narrowing of the spinal canal, it can strengthen the muscles that support the spine. Strengthening exercises that help you maintain good posture can take pressure off the spinal nerves and alleviate your pain.
Spinal stenosis medication
Your doctor may recommend medications to reduce the inflammation, swelling and pain caused by osteoarthritis and spinal stenosis.
Medications for spinal stenosis may include:
- Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medications, including ibuprofen and naproxen
- Prescription anti-inflammatory medications including methylprednisolone
- Narcotic pain relievers
- Muscle relaxant medications
Injections for spinal stenosis
If your spinal stenosis symptoms do not respond to conservative therapies, your doctor may suggest spinal injections. In this procedure, your doctor injects a dose of corticosteroid combined with numbing medicine into a small space adjacent to your spinal cord. These injections can relieve pain for weeks or even months.
Spinal stenosis surgery
When other treatments have failed to control the pain and other symptoms of spinal stenosis, your doctor may recommend surgery to reduce pressure on the spinal nerves. These procedures include:
- Spinal fusion
- Foraminotomy (opening the spinal canal)
Considering your treatment options for spinal stenosis
Your treatment options for spinal stenosis depend on the severity of your symptoms, overall health, and personal preferences. All therapies, including medications, have certain risks. It’s important to discuss with your doctor at Dignity Health the risks and benefits of all proposed treatments, along with treatment goals. Working as a team, you and your doctor can develop a spinal stenosis treatment plan that meets your individual needs.
You can help prevent or limit degenerative changes in the spine and spinal stenosis by practicing good posture and proper body mechanics, maximizing bone health by eating nutritious food, and strengthening your abdominal and back muscles.
Dignity Health has a team of neurologists who can diagnose your symptoms and treat spinal stenosis in NV, AZ, and CA. Find a Doctor at a location near you to receive the exceptional neurological services that you deserve.
Dignity Health treats neurological conditions, such as spinal stenosis, in Arizona, California, and Nevada.