Spinal stenosis can occur as a result of arthritis, injury, or as part of the aging process. Learn more about spinal stenosis, including its causes and symptoms, and the types of minimally invasive surgeries that can treat it.
What is Spinal Stenosis?
When the spinal canal narrows, pressure is put on the spinal cord and the nerve roots found there. This condition is called spinal stenosis.
Spinal stenosis can be caused by the following:
- Arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis of the spine result in deterioration of the cartilage that cushions your vertebrae. This can cause your facet joints (the joints between the vertebrae) to thicken. It can also cause osteophytes, or bone spurs, to form.
- Disc problems. Degenerative disease, injury, or wear and tear can lead to disc damage. For example, when an intervertebral disc is herniated, its gel-like inner tissue bulges out of the weakened outer layer. This reduces space in your spinal canal and can cause nerve compression.
- Thickened ligaments. Your vertebrae are connected by ligaments that help keep your spine stable. These ligaments may grow thicker in reaction to destabilization of your spine, causing compression of your spinal cord.
What Are the Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis?
The most common symptoms of spinal stenosis are pain, numbness, and weakness. Depending on where the compression occurs in your spine, the location of these symptoms varies. For example, lumbar (lower back) stenosis leads to symptoms in the back, buttocks, and legs, while cervical (neck) stenosis affects the shoulders, arms, and hands. Spinal stenosis can also cause loss of coordination, difficulty walking, and reduced bowel and bladder control.
Types of Minimally Invasive Surgery for Spinal Stenosis
The general term for reducing pressure on your spinal cord and/or nerves is decompression. A wide variety of minimally invasive decompression procedures have been developed to treat spinal stenosis. Minimally invasive surgeries use tiny incisions and tools, resulting in less blood loss and quicker healing times.
A discectomy involves trimming a damaged intervertebral disc to reduce pressure on your spinal cord. If a significant portion—or all—of the disc is removed, fusion may then be performed to stabilize the spine.
The goal of fusion is to prevent unwanted movement in your spine by causing bone to grow between the vertebrae. Your orthopedic surgeon will fuse together two or more of your vertebrae using a bone graft or tools such as screws, wires, or rods. Fusion can be done separately or in addition to decompression procedures that may destabilize your spine.
Laminae are thin pieces of bone at the back of your vertebrae. If a lamina has begun to thicken or develop bone spurs, removing it in a process called a laminectomy will allow more room within your spinal canal. A laminectomy might also include trimming spinal ligaments, facet joints, and spinous processes (the bony growths you can feel along the back of your spine) to create even more room.
Foramen are the passageways at the sides of your vertebrae that protect your nerve roots as they exit the spinal cord. Bone spurs or herniated discs can reduce the size of the foramen, causing compression of the nerve roots. A foraminotomy makes the foramen bigger by removing tiny portions of bone or disc material that are causing the compression.
Living with Spinal Stenosis?
If you are experiencing symptoms of spinal stenosis, contact Arkansas Surgical Hospital for help making an appointment with one of our specialists.