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What Is Lumbar Spinal Stenosis?

Does your back pain constantly keep you down? If so, you’re definitely not alone—back pain is extremely common and can occur for a myriad of reasons. One of the most common causes of back pain is a condition called lumbar spinal stenosis. 

Nearly everyone develops some form of spinal stenosis as they get older. And while for some it causes little to no discomfort, for others it can be truly debilitating. Below, we’ll tell you all about the condition, including the primary causes, symptoms, and both surgical and non-surgical treatment options.

What Is Lumbar Spinal Stenosis?

Lumbar spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal. In a healthy individual, there is adequate space for the spinal cord and nerves that run through the lower back and into the legs. However, spinal stenosis causes the small spaces between the vertebrae to become constricted, putting pressure on the nerves that travel through the spine.

The compression of these nerves can cause several unwelcome symptoms, including intense pain, weakened muscles, cramping in the calves, and/or numbness and tingling in the affected area. Pain and numbness are often felt from the lower back and down the legs, sometimes radiating all the way to the feet. In rare cases, loss of function in the legs or loss of normal bowel and bladder control can also occur.

Although some form of spinal stenosis happens due to natural wear and tear as we age, it is often worsened by conditions such as osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, thickened ligaments, bone spurs, or herniated discs. Other lifestyle risk factors such as smoking, obesity, and even poor posture can also contribute to the development of lumbar spinal stenosis.

How to Treat Lumbar Spinal Stenosis

The good news is that those who are diagnosed with spinal stenosis have multiple treatment options, ranging from non-surgical procedures to surgery. At DISC Sports & Spine Center, our physicians always make it a point to explore non-surgical options before considering a surgical procedure; however, in some cases, surgery is the best option for long-lasting relief from pain. A spine specialist can recommend the best approach based on the severity of the condition and symptoms.

Physical therapy is a great option for widening the spinal canal because it improves strength, endurance, and flexibility, allowing stenosis symptoms to go away gradually. Pain can often be managed with a combination of ice and anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and acetaminophen. In more advanced cases of spinal stenosis, corticosteroid injections are also effective for relieving more severe discomfort.

These non-surgical procedures are often successful, but for some people, surgery is the most suitable option. There are multiple surgical options, and the best fit depends on where the stenosis is located. For instance, a laminectomy can be performed to remove a portion of the bone from the impacted area of the spine. This helps to create more space, releasing pressure and offering long-term relief from chronic pain.

Benefits of a Minimally Invasive Approach

DISC spine surgeons take a minimally invasive approach to correcting lumbar spinal stenosis and other similar conditions. When surgery for spinal stenosis is performed using minimally invasive techniques, it causes less trauma to surrounding tissue and results in a shorter recovery period. And because most minimally invasive procedures can be performed on an outpatient basis, patients can usually return home the same day of the surgery.

If you think you might be experiencing symptoms of lumbar spinal stenosis, schedule an appointment with a spine specialist for an accurate diagnosis and custom treatment plan—so you can kiss your back pain goodbye for good and get back to living the active life that you love!

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Grant D. Shifflett, MD

About the author

Grant D. Shifflett, MD Dr. Grant D. Shifflett is a fellowship-trained orthopedic spine surgeon. Handpicked by Dr. Robert S. Bray Jr. to join DISC Sports & Spine Center, Dr. Shifflett specializes in the application of minimally invasive and microsurgical techniques to the entire spectrum of cervical, thoracic and lumbar spinal conditions, from the simple to the most complex. Whether treating a patient with chronic pain or an acute injury, his ultimate goal is to restore function and quality of life with minimal tissue disruption. Read more articles by Grant D. Shifflett, MD.