What is Canal Stenosis?
The spine is made up of many vertebrae, stacked atop one another and separated by cushioning discs made of cartilage. Each vertebrae has a small hole in its center. When aligned, these holes correspond to create the spinal canal, which houses the spinal cord. As an extremely important part of the body, the spinal cord transmits neural signals between the brain and the bodily systems that sustain human life.
The term canal stenosis, also known as “spinal stenosis,” refers to the abnormal narrowing of the spinal canal. As the cartilage discs that absorb shock in the spine shrink and bone spurs develop, the spinal canal can become smaller and tighter, resulting in pinched nerves and other complications. This medical condition can affect the spinal cord, surrounding tissues and vertebrae and cause intense pain and discomfort.
With proper treatment, canal stenosis can usually be treated or proactively managed. The method of care recommended will depend largely upon the underlying cause and severity of the spinal stenosis.
Canal Stenosis Causes
As we grow older, our spines begin to change. Intervertebral discs lose water content and do not absorb shock as effectively as before. By age 50, up to 95% of Americans evince signs of spinal degeneration. While natural aging and general wear and tear are the primary causes of spinal stenosis, there are other factors that can cause or exacerbate this condition, including:
- Sudden injury or trauma, often resulting from a fall, sports accident or motor vehicle accident
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- A genetic disease or birth defect (This occurs more commonly in men than in women)
- Disc degeneration
- Problems with the facet joints (the flat surfaces on each vertebrae that align to form the spinal column)
- Bone spurs and the overgrowth of bone
- Herniated discs
- Paget’s Disease
- Thickened ligaments
- Other health issues
Some of the underlying causes of canal stenosis are easily remedied, while others can become life-threatening if not treated promptly. For this reason, it is imperative to obtain a comprehensive and clear diagnosis without delay. If you believe you may be experiencing canal stenosis or a similar issue, speak with a spine professional immediately.
Canal Stenosis Symptoms
The symptoms of spinal stenosis vary widely depending on the location of the canal narrowing and the severity of the condition. However, some of the most frequently occurring symptoms are:
- Pain in the lower back, legs, hips, groin and buttock areas
- Frequent falling and sudden clumsiness
- Hot and cold feelings in the legs, burning sensations
- “Foot drop,” or the impression that the foot is slapping against the ground when walking
- Discomfort and difficulty when walking
- Numbness and weakness in the lower back, legs, hips, groin and buttock areas
- Symptoms that worsen when active or that improve when lying down, sitting or leaning forward
Because of the wide array of symptoms associated with canal stenosis and the various regions of the body this condition can affect, patients suffering from canal stenosis may not even suspect they are battling a spine-related issue. Canal stenosis most often occurs in the lumbar spine and typically affects the lower limbs. However, only a medical professional can definitively diagnose spinal stenosis.
If you or a loved one begin to experience incontinence of the bladder or bowels, call 911 immediately – These indicators may evince a serious medical emergency.
Our Minimally Invasive Treatment Approach
At Minimally Invasive SpineCARE®, our team of skilled spine surgeons regularly helps patients find safe and effective solutions to canal stenosis. Through advanced and personalized care, we strive to ensure that each patient returns to their daily life unhindered by negative symptoms and secondary complications.
During your initial consultation, one of our experienced physicians will carefully and compassionately evaluate your medical history and physical state. To diagnose spinal stenosis, imaging tests like an MRI, CT scan or myelogram may be requested. Based upon the information gathered, we can create a plan of action based upon your needs, goals and condition.
Sometimes the pain associated with spinal stenosis can be managed through conservative means. Changes in posture, medications, physical therapy, massage and a strict regimen of rest and exercise may alleviate canal stenosis-related discomfort. However, if the narrowing of the spinal canal is progressing and continues to affect nearby nerves, surgical intervention may become necessary.
Operations to correct spinal stenosis may be conducted as traditional open surgeries or through minimally invasive laparoscopic techniques. When possible, we recommend minimally invasive surgeries. These state-of-the-art procedures yield many benefits, including:
- Shorter recovery times than traditional surgeries, which allow patients to return to work, school and other activities more quickly
- Less pain
- A reduced risk of scarring and trauma to surrounding tissues
- Lower volumes of blood loss during surgery
- Fewer potential post-operative complications
The surgical approach used will depend upon the preferences of the patient, as well as several determining factors such as obesity or the presence of substantial adhesions (scar tissue) from a past surgery. Because our Board-certified surgeons are experienced in both traditional surgeries and minimally invasive operations, we are able to offer whichever procedure best suits your unique situation. Surgeries frequently related to the correction of canal stenosis include:
- Laminectomies: During a laminectomy, the surgeon removes bone, bone spurs and ligaments that are compressing the nerves and causing your symptoms.
- Spinal Fusion Procedures: If arthritis is behind your spinal stenosis, your doctor may recommend a spinal fusion operation. This surgery involves techniques designed to reduce the strain on nerves while stabilizing the spinal canal.
The amount of recuperation required will depend upon the type of surgery, as well as whether it is minimally invasive or open. Generally, patients should expect to stay in the hospital for a short period of time (anywhere from 0 – 5 days). Most men and women are able to return fully to physical activities after only a few weeks, though this varies based on patient. Physical therapy and other rehabilitation programs may be required after your surgery to further correct canal stenosis and encourage optimal post-operative healing.
If you have any questions or concerns about canal stenosis or if you would like to learn more about Minimally Invasive SpineCARE®, please do not hesitate to get in touch by calling us directly at 972-255-5588 or by filling out the form on this page. We look forward to providing the care you need, so that you can improve your quality of life!