Lumbar Spinal Stenosis: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Lumbar spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the spinal canal in your lower back, often due to degenerative changes that occur with age. Many patients with this condition benefit from non-surgical treatments like medications, epidural injections, and physical therapy. But for severe, persistent pain, Jeff Pan, MD, offers neurosurgery Edison, NJ to help patients with complex back conditions.

What causes lumbar stenosis?

The most common cause of lumbar spinal stenosis is the gradual wear and tear in your joints over time (osteoarthritis). As such, it mainly affects people typically aged 60 and older. However, it can affect younger people due to developmental causes such as injury to the spine, certain bone diseases, spinal tumors, and previous spinal surgery.

Symptoms of lumbar stenosis

Early stages of lumbar spinal stenosis may have no symptoms. Most of the time, symptoms develop gradually and may include the following:

  • Back pain
  • Burning pain going into the buttocks and down the legs
  • Numbness, tingling, weakness, or cramping in your legs
  •  Loss of sexual ability
  • Foot drop due to weakness

Diagnosing lumbar stenosis

Your neurosurgeon will diagnose based on history, symptoms, physical examination, and test results. Below are imaging studies that your specialist may use.

  • X-ray. It uses radiation energy to create images. An x-ray can show the structure of bones and spine alignment and outline the joints.
  • CT scan. Combines multiple X-rays to create more detailed images. A CT scan can show the shape and size of the spinal canal, its content, and surrounding structures with details of the bony anatomy.
  • MRI. It uses powerful magnets and computer technology to create images. An MRI can show the spinal cord, nerve roots, and surrounding area. It can also show degeneration, enlargement, and tumors.
  • Myelogram. Involving contrast dye into the spinal fluid space to outline nerves and the spinal cord and show evidence of any pressure affecting these areas.

Treatment for lumbar stenosis

Many patients experience symptom relief with time, medications, posture management, stretching, and exercise. Weight management and nicotine cessation may also reduce pain flare-ups. Below are other non-surgical treatments for lumbar spinal stenosis.

  • Anti-inflammatory medications. These can minimize swelling, and analgesics can be used for pain relief. Many patients experience pain relief with non-prescription medicines. However, others may have severe and persistent pain that requires prescription medications.
  • Epidural injections may be prescribed to reduce inflammation and swelling.
  • Physical therapy. Prescribed exercises help stabilize, strengthen, and protect your spine. Typically, patients need four to six weeks of therapy to help them resume their normal lifestyle and activities.

Your doctor may recommend surgery if you don’t experience significant symptom relief with non-surgical management. There are several spinal surgeries; your neurosurgeon will help determine the appropriate procedure for you depending on the cause of your symptoms. Like any other surgery, factors like age, overall health, and a patient’s risks are considered beforehand. Surgery may be an option if:

  • Medications and physical therapy don’t alleviate your symptoms
  • Back and leg pain reduce your productivity and impair your quality of life
  • You have difficulty standing or walking
  • You experience loss of normal bowel or bladder functions
  • You are in reasonably good health

If you have further questions about lumbar stenosis, consult your specialist at Jeff Pan, MD.

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