Spinal stenosis refers the to narrowing of the spinal canal. As shown in Illustration 1, each spine bone (or vertebra) has a circular opening, known as the vertebral foramen. The spinal column is formed when the vertebrae stack on top of one another—perfectly aligning the vertebral foramen to form the spinal canal. When this opening is narrowed, the nerves that exit the spine can become trapped or impinged by bone spurs or tissue, which causes localized or radiating pain. In most cases, spinal stenosis occurs in the lumbar spine and is far less common in the cervical spine.


Illustration 1– The vertebra(e) and vertebral foramen


Illustration 2– Spinal stenosis puts pressure on the spinal cord


The Causes of Spinal Stenosis: Age vs. Congenital

Spinal stenosis most often occurs as a result of aging and arthritis. Because the spine supports the body, it’s inevitable that bone deterioration will occur over time. As the bone deteriorates and arthritis sets in—the tissues and bones of the spine thicken and begin to compress the spinal nerves.


Illustration 3– Arthritis sets in and compresses the nerve

In rare cases, people can be born with a narrow spinal column, which makes them susceptible to any age-related change in the structure of the spinal column. Because of this, the symptoms of spinal stenosis are seen earlier in life than normal.

The Most Commons Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis

Some of the most common symptoms to look for are:

  • Lower back pain
  • Weakness of the arms and/or legs
  • Numbness
  • Balance problems
  • Burning
  • Tingling

It’s important that you consult a spine specialist should you have any of these symptoms.

Non-Surgical Treatment of Spinal Stenosis

Many treatment options are available based on your specific symptoms. In most cases, a spine specialist will recommend non-surgical options as the first course of treatment. Common treatments include:

  • Anti-inflammatory medication
  • Physical therapy
  • Steroid injections

If these options fail to provide adequate relief, a Minimally Invasive Surgical Procedure may be recommended.

Minimally Invasive Surgical Treatment of Spinal Stenosis

Historically, surgically treating spinal stenosis required a large incision and an extensive recovery period. However, Minimally Invasive Surgical options to treat spinal stenosis are now available which require a small incision (usually one inch) and a drastically shortened recovery profile.

One of the most common procedures used to treat spinal stenosis is known as a Minimally Invasive Decompressive Laminectomy.   During this procedure, a small incision is made over the affected level of the spine so that small instruments can be inserted. Next, the arched piece of bone at the back of the vertebrae, known as the lamina, is trimmed so that the spinal nerve root can be decompressed and will have more room in the spinal canal. If other bone spurs exist on the outside end of the vertebrae, known as the foramina, these may be trimmed or removed as well.

The incision is the closed with small sutures and a bandage. In most cases, patients are able to return home the same day as their procedure.

What to Do If You Think You Have Spinal Stenosis

The first step is always the most important one. Consulting an Orthopedic Spine Specialist should be your first step. During your appointment, a detailed history and physical exam is taken as well as any necessary tests and MRI’s. Based on the results, a unique treatment plan can be created based on your individual goals and lifestyles so that you can return to a healthy and active life as soon as possible.

The Spine Center at Total Orthopedics and Sports Medicine consists of a multi-disciplinary medical team of Physical Medical and Rehabilitation, Interventional Pain Management and Orthopedic Spine SurgeryOur team treats a variety of cervical and lumbar spinal conditions using both non-surgical and surgical treatment options.  Total Orthopedics and Sports Medicine has locations throughout Long Island, the Bronx and Manhattan.  If you, or someone you love, is suffering from chronic back or neck pain, contact us today to discuss treatment options.