Spinal Stenosis

What is Spinal Stenosis?

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Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spaces within your spine, which can put pressure on the nerves that travel through the spine. Spinal stenosis occurs most often in the lower back and the neck. There are two forms:

  • Degenerative — wear and tear on the spine over time, with bulging discs, arthritic joints and thickened ligaments all protruding into the spinal canal, narrowing the space available for the spinal cord and/or nerve roots, resulting in acquired spinal stenosis.
  • Congenital — a narrow spinal canal that is present from birth. Although congenital stenosis does not cause problems by itself, it makes the spinal cord and/or nerve roots more susceptible to acquired

Lumbar stenosis or low back

In the low back, spinal stenosis often causes neurogenic claudication, or compression of the nerve roots. Typically, the patient with symptomatic spinal stenosis will have pain, numbness, and weakness in the legs, or some combination of these symptoms, all of which get worse with standing and walking and then are relieved by rest or sitting. Lumbar stenosis tends to be slowly progressive, with more limitations each year.

Neck or cervical stenosis

Spinal stenosis in the neck (cervical stenosis) is, in general, a more serious problem than spinal stenosis in the low back (lumbar stenosis), as stenosis in the neck may affect the spinal cord, causing myelopathy.This can cause an often painless weakness or numbness of the arms and leg and progressive clumsiness of the hands and during walking.

Mid-back or thoracic stenosis

The least common form of spinal stenosis, thoracic spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the space that runs up the center of your spine, known as the spinal canal. It stretches the length of 12 vertebrae, numbered T1 – T12. The symptoms experienced due to this condition is typically from bone tissue of the vertebrae, bone spurs, ligaments or discs pushing into and narrowing the spinal canal, placing pressure on your nerve roots and spinal cord.

Why rely on Neurosurgery experts for your treatment of your degenerative disc disease?

Washington University spinal neurosurgeons routinely treat spinal stenosis. We provide a full range of treatment options including conservative (non-surgical) measures and surgical decompression. We also offer the most advanced minimally invasive approaches, allowing for a quicker recovery.

Spinal stenosis treatment

Treatment of lumbar stenosis in the early stages often consists of physical therapy and epidural injections. Treatment of more advanced lumbar stenosis often involves a surgery to decompress the nerves. Most commonly, this is accomplished with a laminectomy, in which the roof of the spinal canal is removed to relieve the compression.

Once symptomatic, cervical stenosis typically requires surgery to take the pressure off the spinal cord and restore the normal diameter of the spinal canal.

Often these surgeries can be performed as outpatient or through a minimally invasive approach, allowing for a speedier recovery. Your spine surgeon will discuss the various conservative and surgical options after reviewing your specific condition.