Spinal Stenosis Nerve Damage: Is Surgery Necessary?

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What Is Spinal Stenosis?

Primarily affecting people over the age of fifty, spinal stenosis involves a narrowing of the spine. It may be the result of a gradual degeneration; sometimes changes occur to the structure of the vertebral canal as a result of the aging process . Inflammation and the presence of degenerative diseases such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can also be contributing factors. In some cases, spinal stenosis is brought on by a tumor that affects the spinal canal, an injury, or fluorosis.

Spinal stenosis may not cause any symptoms, at least at first. It may also lead to increasingly worsening symptoms including pain, weakness, cramping and numbness. In more serious cases, patients may have trouble controlling their bladders or bowels or they may have trouble with walking and normal movement. Spinal stenosis nerve damage may be a serious threat in some cases, particularly with cervical spinal stenosis, or spinal stenosis that occurs in the upper portion of the spinal cord.

Nerve Damage

Protected within the spinal canal are nerve roots and the spinal cord, as well as a sack of nerve roots that are necessary for nervous system control over the lower part of the body. This bundle is known as the cauda equina. As the canal narrows, the narrowing may put pressure on nerve roots, the spinal cord or the cauda equina, which is located at the base of the spinal cord. This can cause symptoms such as pain along the back, neck, arms or legs, and numbness, weakness and loss of control.

When spinal stenosis occurs in the lower back, the lumbar region, it may not be necessary to have surgery and nerve damage may not be a threat. Other treatment options including physical therapy and medications may be enough to relieve symptoms and manage the disease. Cervical spinal stenosis, which affects the neck area, may require surgery as the pressure and narrowing is probably only going to become worse with time. Often a surgical procedure known as a laminectomy is done to make the spinal canal wider, relieving the pressure on the nerves.

Protecting Your Spinal Cord

Spinal stenosis may cause nerve damage and lead to more severe problems that make everyday life more difficult, such as loss of control over the bladder and bowels and a difficulty being aware of extremities. Doctors may recommend surgery in some cases, particularly with cervical spinal stenosis, to prevent damage to the nerves or spinal cord and even paralysis. In many cases people who suffer from lumbar spinal stenosis, which is the most common form, may find non-surgical treatments are enough.


NIAMS. Spinal Stenosis. https://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Spinal_Stenosis/#spine_e

WebMD. Decompressive laminectomy for spinal stenosis. https://www.webmd.com/back-pain/decompressive-laminectomy-for-spinal-stenosis

University of Maryland Medical Center. A Patient’s Guide to Cervical Spinal Stenosis https://www.umm.edu/spinecenter/education/cervical_spinal_stenosis.htm

Medicine Plus. Spinal Stenosis. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/spinalstenosis.html