What is spinal stenosis?
The spine is made up of bones called vertebrae that are ‘stacked’ one of top of the other; these are separated by rubbery discs. The spinal cord passes down the length of these bones through a space called the spinal canal. When this space becomes narrowed, it can put pressure on the cord – this is called spinal stenosis.
What causes spinal stenosis?
Spinal stenosis often occurs due to wear and tear with age. As such, it most often occurs in people over 60 years old*. As you age, the discs that separate your vertebral bones get worn down or ‘degenerate’ and this puts increased pressure on the bony joints. As a result, new bony growths appear and the space containing the spinal cord is narrowed.
How is spinal stenosis diagnosed?
The lower back is the most commonly affected site for spinal stenosis, so symptoms include pain in this area, and tingling or numbness in the legs, called sciatica. A spinal specialist will ask about your symptoms and perform a careful assessment of your back, looking for areas of tenderness and movements that you find difficult. Imaging such as x-rays, MRI or CT scans may be used to help confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment and recovery
Non-surgical treatments are often tried initially to relieve your symptoms. These include physiotherapy, anti-inflammatory medications and spinal injections guided by x-rays. Recovery can take between 2-4 weeks for your symptoms to start resolving. Our spinal specialists take a holistic approach to your treatment and only consider surgery after all other treatment options have been exhausted.
If your symptoms are getting worse, then surgery will need to be considered. Surgical decompression of the spine involves removing excess bone or other structures that are pressing on the spinal cord. Spinal fusion may also be required if your spine has become unstable due to degeneration. This involves using a bone graft (from elsewhere in your body, a donor or artificial bone) to fuse together two or more vertebral bones in the spine.
After surgery, you will need to stay in hospital for up to 4 days while we help you to start walking again. Your wound will need to be checked at 2 weeks and a course of 6-12 weeks of physiotherapy will help speed your recovery. We aim for you to be enjoying your normal everyday life again by 3-6 months after the operation.
*Orthoinfo.aaos.org. (2019). Lumbar Spinal Stenosis. [online] Available at: https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/lumbar-spinal-stenosis [Accessed 13 Feb. 2019].