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How is lumbar spinal stenosis treated?

Lumbar stenosis is a narrowing of the spine that squeezes the spinal cord and the nerves that go to the legs. The biggest symptom that people notice is leg pain, which may just start as buttock pain or pain down the back of the thighs, and usually increases with walking or doing activities. Lumber stenosis can progress slowly to the point that it severely limits the activities you're able to participate in. It is treatable, however.

Treatments for spinal stenosis begin with medications and non-operative means. If people don't get better with nonoperative measures, then back surgery has a good track record with helping people. People do very well from medications, injections or surgery. Most people will tell you they're able to do more of the activities that they wanted to do or they used to do without that radiating leg pain.

Treatment for lumbar spinal stenosis, the narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower back, may depend on the cause of the condition, how long you have had it and how much pain you are experiencing from it. The lumbar spine houses the nerves that extend down into your legs. The narrowing caused by stenosis can put pressure on those nerves, causing pain that may extend from the lower back down the legs, as well as possible numbness and even loss of bladder or bowel control and difficulty walking.

If your pain is mild and you haven't experienced it for long, your doctor may recommend rest as well as exercise and physical therapy to strengthen your back and improve your posture as an initial treatment. Your doctor may also prescribe pain medication to relieve your pain, and/or give you cortisone injections to reduce swelling, soreness and pain.

If you have more severe or long-lasting pain, problems with bowel or bladder control or problems with walking, your doctor may recommend surgery to open up the spinal canal and relieve the pressure on your nerves. The surgery may require a few days in the hospital, possibly followed by physical therapy to aid in your recovery.

Dr. Arya Nick Shamie, MD
Neurosurgeon

Lumbar spinal stenosis can be treated with discectomies, laminectomies or fusion. Classically, when people with lumbar spinal stenosis are upright they have severe buttock and leg pain. When they sit down or lean over a shopping cart, that relieves the pressure.

The reason for that is when they sit down or lean forward, they are flexing, or opening, the spine. When they stand up, the back of the spine closes. The technology of interspinous devices came about as a way to keep the back of the spine open even when the person is standing up. Putting a spacer called an interspinous device between these spinous processes maintains this space open, relieving the pressure from the nerves even when the person is standing up.

The beautiful thing about this is when this device is used there is no need to remove any bone or soft tissue. This can be done really minimally invasively.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.