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Spinal Stenosis Explanation for Patients

written by: R. Elizabeth C. Kitchen • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 1/6/2010

Spinal stenosis is a condition that can greatly affect a patient's life. Read on for a spinal stenosis explanation that will help all patients better understand this condition.

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    Spinal stenosis is a condition in which the spinal canal becomes narrowed. This condition is seen most often in those over sixty years of age. Patients with this condition often experience leg and back pain after walking and other similar activities.

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    Causes

    This condition is most often caused by age-related wear and tear. This degenerative process leads to the large ligaments becoming thicker, bone spurs, and bulging spinal discs which leads to less space in the spinal canal. Eventually, the nerves will not fit comfortably, leading to pressure that causes the symptoms associated with this condition. Some patients will have this condition from birth as the result of a birth defect.

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    Symptoms

    Patients with spinal stenosis most often experience sensations of weakness, heaviness, and pain with prolonged standing or walking. When the patients rest, they often notice that their symptoms will be alleviated.

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    Diagnosis

    The first steps in diagnosing this condition is to perform a physical exam and obtain a complete patient history. This includes the patient's family history. The doctor will then order certain diagnostic tests. These include x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and computer assisted tomography (CT scan). The diagnostic tests will show changes in the spine and spinal canal allowing the doctor to make a confirmed diagnosis. Your doctor will provide you with a spinal stenosis explanation so that you better understand your condition.

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    Treatment

    Before treatment can begin, the seriousness of the patient's condition needs to be assessed. Some patients will require immediate attention, such as surgery. Fortunately, most patients will not require a surgical intervention and can be treated over time because this spinal condition tends to progress slowly. Prescription medications to alleviate pain and inflammation are a very common mode of treatment. Medications for this condition include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and analgesics. Patients in moderate to severe pain may be prescribed narcotic analgesics.

    Epidural steroid injections can help to alleviate pain and nerve root irritation. These are only used when conservative treatments fail to produce positive results.

    Surgery is used in the most serious cases. The purpose of surgery for this spinal condition is to alleviate any pressure on the nerve roots. The surgeon will remove bone spurs and ultimately make the spinal canal wider so that the nerves are not compressed. This surgery has great risks, particularly in elderly patients with failing health.

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    Resources

    University of Maryland Medical Center. (2009). A Patient's Guide to Lumbar Spinal Stenosis. Retrieved on December 22, 2009 from the University of Maryland Medical Center: http://www.umm.edu/spinecenter/education/lumbar_spinal_stenosis.htm


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