Spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the spinal canal. This narrowing can put pressure on the spinal cord and/or nerve roots, which can cause numbness, weakness or pain.
There are two common types of spinal stenosis:
- Lumbar spinal stenosis (narrowing in the lumbar, or lower back, part of the spine)
- Cervical spinal stenosis (narrowing in the cervical, or upper back and neck, region)
Spinal Stenosis Symptoms
Symptoms of spinal stenosis depend on what part of the spine is affected by pressure. Typical spinal stenosis symptoms include the following:
- Soreness, numbness, tingling or weakness in your legs, back or buttocks
- Pain that decreases when you sit or bend forward
- Pain that worsens with prolonged walking or standing
- Cramping in your legs
- Pain that shoots into one or both of your legs, similar to sciatica
- Loss of control of your arms and legs (or, spasticity) that can lead to trouble walking or the inability to hold objects
- Loss of the use of your legs
- Loss of bowel or bladder control (incontinence)
Spinal Stenosis Causes
Causes of spinal stenosis include the following:
- Degenerative disc disease; disc degeneration is part of the aging process (e.g., from a herniated disc or osteoarthritis)
- A spinal tumor
Care for Spinal Stenosis at Rush
Identifying the best method to treat your spinal stenosis depends on many factors. These factors include its location, the cause of your stenosis, your general health and age, and the severity of your pain, weakness or numbness.
Spine specialists at Rush will first try nonsurgical methods to relieve your spinal stenosis symptoms:
- Stretching or physical therapy
- Regular exercise to strengthen your back muscles
- Pain-relieving medication (taken by mouth)
- Spinal injections of pain-relieving medication directly into the source of pain
- Percutaneous image-guided lumbar decompression (PILD), also known as MILD, an outpatient procedure to treat lumbar stenosis that's performed through a 1cm incision; it can help you stand longer and walk farther with less pain, and because it doesn't require general anesthesia, it might be a good option if you're considered high risk for surgery
If spinal stenosis is caused by degeneration, nonsurgical treatments may not provide long-term relief. You may need surgery to address the source of the pain, numbness or weakness.
The goal of the surgery is to open up the spinal canal to give your nerves adequate space. Rush spine surgeons will help you determine which surgical option will best address your stenosis.
These are the main types of spinal stenosis surgery:
- Spinal fusion, a surgery in which two or more vertebrae are permanently joined together. Whenever possible, Rush spine surgeons perform fusions using minimally invasive approaches that help you heal faster and with less pain.
- Laminectomy or laminotomy, used to create more space for the nerves. For these procedures, your surgeon removes all (laminectomy) or part (laminotomy) of the lamina (or, roof) of one or more vertebrae. The procedure can be performed by itself or in combination with other procedures.
- Foraminotomy, used to remove pressure from a nerve root by removing a small portion of bone around the affected nerve root. This may be performed by itself or in combination with a laminectomy or a discectomy. Some of our spine surgeons perform cervical lamino-foraminotomy through a tiny incision using an innovative tubular system that minimizes tissue damage and pain and enables faster recovery than with open spinal surgery.
Rush Excellence in Spinal Stenosis Care
- Care tailored to your needs: Because our team focuses exclusively on diagnosing and treating spine, back and neck issues, we have a deep understanding of conditions like spinal stenosis. So you can feel confident that you'll get the right treatment, whether that means conservative approaches, surgery or both.
- Advanced nonsurgical spine and back care: Often, people with spinal stenosis can get relief without surgery. Our spine specialists offer a full range of nonsurgical options, including medications, physical therapy and a variety of injections. We will tailor your treatment to best address your symptoms, while taking into account your personal goals, lifestyle and physical limitations.
- Surgical expertise: Spine neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons at Rush typically perform more than 2,300 spine surgeries each year. Many of these procedures are done using minimally invasive approaches that are less painful and enable you to leave the hospital sooner. Research shows that when spine surgeons perform a high volume of surgeries, their patients experience better outcomes and fewer complications.
- Spine surgery made safer: In addition to minimally invasive procedures that use much smaller incisions (or, sometimes, no incisions), Rush spine surgeons use a unique pain management approach that reduces the amount of opioid pain medication you need. In addition, our downtown Chicago location uses EOS imaging, a system that exposes you to less radiation than traditional imaging.
- Nationally ranked programs: U.S. News & World Report ranked Rush University Medical Center No. 4 in the nation for neurosurgery and No. 5 in the nation for orthopedic surgery. Both programs are also ranked best in Illinois.