Spinal Stenosis

Overview

What Is Spinal Stenosis?

Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of your spinal canal, the open space in your spine. The narrowing pinches – or puts pressure on – the nerves of your spine, causing pain, numbness or weakness.

The most common cause of spinal stenosis is aging, as the wear and tear on the spinal cord discs and joints cause the canal to narrow. Certain conditions, like arthritis, can cause spinal stenosis as well.

Stenosis can affect any area of your spine, although it most often occurs in the neck (cervical stenosis) and the lower back (lumbar stenosis).

At Aurora Health Care, our orthopedic and neurosurgery experts will work with you to find the most effective treatment solution. First, we’ll focus on nonsurgical spinal stenosis treatments, like cortisone injections, chiropractic care, acupuncture and physical therapy. If those methods don’t work or stop working, we may then recommend spinal stenosis surgery. And our expert surgeons use minimally invasive methods when possible to reduce tissue damage so you can feel better faster.

The Aurora Difference

Advanced Treatment for Spinal Stenosis

As one of the largest regional health care providers in Wisconsin, we treat thousands of people for spinal stenosis and other back and spine conditions every year. We apply this experience to every aspect of your care so that you can count on:

  • Care that’s focused on you: We work hard to find the treatment solution that works best for you. You may benefit from a customized physical therapy plan or you may need a minimally invasive surgical procedure. Whether you have mild or severe stenosis, we consider your health goals, personal preferences and lifestyle when creating a care plan. Together, we’ll help you get back to enjoying your life.
  • Team approach: Our spine program contains both orthopedic and neurosurgery experts, and we are one of the only centers in Wisconsin that offers this high level of integrated care. Working together, they’re able to provide comprehensive, seamless care that treats your pain and other symptoms while protecting the health of your spine.
  • Minimally invasive techniques: If you need spinal stenosis surgery, our orthopedic and neurosurgery experts use robotic and minimally invasive technology. These tissue-preserving techniques result in a more precise surgery, with less damage to healthy muscle tissue. The result? A more comfortable, quicker recovery and better long-term health. Learn more about spine surgery at Aurora.
  • Convenient locations: We have multiple locations throughout eastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois. You can find the care you need where you need it, from imaging scans to physical therapy to rehabilitation services. Get treatment close to home, so you can focus your energy on your health, not on traveling.
  • Customized rehabilitation: If you have surgery, rehabilitation will be an important part of your recovery plan. Our rehabilitation experts offer customized physical therapy plans, working with you one-on-one to help you get back to life on your terms. Learn more about our rehabilitation and therapy services.

Symptoms

Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis

You may find that spinal stenosis symptoms occur on one side of your body and then progress over time. Spinal stenosis symptoms include:

  • Numbness or weakness in your legs, thighs or feet
  • Pain in your neck, shoulders, arms, back, buttocks, thighs or calves
  • Bowel or bladder problems
  • Loss of sexual function
  • Poor balance when walking
  • Partial or complete leg paralysis (in severe cases)

You may feel relief from your symptoms when you bend forward, sit or lie down. Symptoms can also improve when you walk uphill and worsen when you walk downhill.

If you experience these symptoms, you can turn to our team for expert, compassionate care. We will get to the bottom of your pain so we can treat it and help you get back to feeling your best.

Causes

Causes of Spinal Stenosis

Age is the most common cause of spinal stenosis. This is because the spine consists of bones separated by discs. The discs are made of a jelly-like, squishy substance, and as we age, those discs lose water. As a result, growths called bone spurs form on the surface of the bone, eventually causing the spine to narrow. People 50 years of age and older are most likely to experience this.

But other medical conditions may also contribute to spinal stenosis, including:

  • Arthritis
  • Inflammatory spondyloarthritis, which is a term used to describe diseases that involve your joints and the areas where ligaments and tendons attach to bone
  • Scoliosis
  • Spinal tumors, which are growths that can form inside the spinal cord
  • Paget’s disease, a bone disease that causes the bones to weaken
  • Herniated disc

Diagnosis

Expert Spinal Stenosis Diagnosis

Our specialists will perform a thorough evaluation so we can make a precise diagnosis. At your first appointment, they will ask you about your stenosis symptoms and medical history.

Other diagnostic tests may include:

  • Performance exam: We may ask you to sit, stand, walk, bend forward, bend backward and bend sideways. We may also ask you to lie down and lift your legs straight up.
  • Imaging scans: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans detect damage in your spinal canal. We may also use a myelogram, where we inject a dye into your spine, making it easier to see the test results. X-rays can also help us rule out other injuries that may be causing your symptoms.
  • Electromyography (EMG): Stenosis can put pressure on the nerves in the back, irritating or damaging them. This test measures the electrical activity of your muscles to identify nerve irritation or damage.
  • Bone scan: These scans help us rule out other causes of your pain, such as tumors, fractures or arthritis.

Find out more about orthopedic diagnosis at Aurora.

Treatment

Comprehensive Spinal Stenosis Treatment

After we arrive at a precise diagnosis, we will discuss your treatment options with you. We’ll consider nonsurgical treatments first to relieve the pressure on the spinal nerves and improve your symptoms.

Nonsurgical spinal stenosis treatments include:

  • Medications, like over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve) – to relieve pain and inflammation
  • Physical therapy exercises to help restore movement and function
  • Chiropractic care to help manage symptoms and relieve pain for people with spinal stenosis
  • Cortisone injections to lessen swelling and inflammation

If nonsurgical spinal stenosis treatment does not work or works only temporarily, we will discuss options for spinal stenosis surgery with you. Whenever possible, we use minimally invasive methods, which target the affected area only to protect the healthy tissue. This leads to easier, more comfortable recoveries. Learn more about minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery at Aurora.

Procedures we offer include:

  • Laminectomy, to remove the lamina, part of the vertebrae, and create more space in the spinal canal
  • Foraminotomy, which enlarges the area where the spinal nerve root exits the spinal canal
  • Spinal fusion procedures, to connect the vertebrae that are causing pain so they no longer move around

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