Most adult spines have 24 individual bones that work together with connective tissue to protect the spinal cord and nerves. As we age, the normal wear and tear can create bone spurs that lead to a narrowing of the spinal column, leading to a painful condition known as spinal stenosis.

What is spinal stenosis?

Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal, which contains the nerves and spinal cord. This can occur along the entire spine but is most often found in the neck (cervical spine) or low back (lumbar spine). This narrowing creates pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots.

What causes spinal stenosis?

The most common cause of spinal stenosis is arthritis. Degeneration in the spine leads to disc bulging and height loss, which along with large arthritic joints, narrows the space around the spinal cord and nerves. Given its connection to osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis is more commonly found in patients over the age of 50.

Spinal stenosis symptoms

People with spinal stenosis may experience different symptoms depending on where the narrowing occurs. If a single nerve is pinched, this may lead to severe pain, numbness, or weakness in a limb. If the spinal cord is compressed, this may lead to numbness in the hands and feet, difficulty with walking or hand function, or trouble with balance and coordination.

How is spinal stenosis diagnosed?

The patient's history and medical imaging such as an MRI are used to diagnose spinal stenosis. Other tests, such as CAT scans and nerve conduction studies, which measure how fast an electric impulse moves along the nerve, can also be useful in diagnosing the problem.

How do you treat spinal stenosis?

Spinal stenosis can be treated with nonsurgical options. Over the counter medications such as ibuprofen and Tylenol can help with pain from this condition. Physical therapy with a focus on strengthening the core muscles can be of benefit as well. If physical therapy and medications are not effective, the next step might be needle techniques, such as epidural steroid injections.

Surgery is an option if patients are still having pain after trying non-surgical options. Surgical options include procedures to decompress parts of the spine by removing bone spurs, herniated discs, or opening up the spinal canal. Spinal fusions may be required to support the spine in addition, through the use of disc replacements and screws and rods.

At the Norman Prince Spine Institute at Newport Hospital, we take a collaborative approach to patient care that provides both nonsurgical and surgical options for a range of spinal disorders, including spinal stenosis. Visit us on our webpage to request an appointment, or call 401-845-1190.

Maria A. Guglielmo, MD

Dr. Maria A. Guglielmo is a neurosurgeon with the Norman Prince Spine Institute who specializes in adult spine surgery and neurosurgical treatments for chronic pain.