Orthopedic surgery specialist Dr. Elian Shepherd, with the The Methodist Physician Group Specialists in Merrillville, Indiana, work with patients suffering spinal problems to diagnose and repair them. Spinal stenosis is a common complaint and one that needs correction by a skilled hand.
Spinal stenosis refers to the narrowing of the spinal canal, the open space that in runs through the bones. This area contains the network of nerves that connect the body to the brain. Narrowing there can lead to impingement of the spinal cord, which has the potential to interfere with normal functioning.
The symptoms will vary based on the extent of the narrowing and the location on the spine. Stenosis in the neck, for example, may affect the hands or feet, while narrowing in the lower back is likely to be felt only in the lower extremities. Some common warning signs include:
Paralysis is possible in extreme cases, as well.
The causes vary but for some people, the condition is congenital: They’re born with especially narrow spinal canals. For others, there will be a medical explanation, such as bone overgrowth or a herniated disc. Some less common culprits include:
Anyone of these problems can narrow that open space and affect the nerves. Age is a significant risk factor for this condition, too: Years of use simply cause the bones and other elements to wear.
There are a variety of non-surgical treatments that Dr. Shepherd will likely try before considering surgery. Medications can help control the pain and calm the muscles that tend to spasm with it. Steroid injections into the nerve can reduce inflammation and irritation, as well. Physical therapy also helps build up the strength and endurance of the muscles that supports the back to increase flexibility and stabilize the spine.
Surgery is the next step if these conventional treatments fail to offer relief, or if the side effects of the stenosis are severe. The goal of this surgery is to relieve the impingement by freeing the nerves and creating more space. There are three types of surgery that might help do this:
Each one takes a different approach to reaching that goal and all are usually effective. It’s up to spine specialists, like Dr. Shepherd, to decide which procedure is best in each case.