You may think of spinal stenosis as a problem only for older adults — and it is the top cause of back pain in those over the age of 50 — but it also affects up to 20% of adults under the age of 40.
True to those numbers, spinal stenosis is one of the most common sources of back and neck pain we treat at Douglas J. Abeles, MD & Associates.
The first line of treatment is always conservative, but if that doesn’t provide relief, you can count on our orthopedic surgeons and their years of experience performing minimally invasive surgery to relieve the pain and immobility caused by spinal stenosis.
Let’s talk about spinal stenosis
The engineering marvel that is your spine consists of 33 vertebrae stacked on top of one another, with a shock-absorbing disc between the bones.
Each vertebra has an opening in the center — the spinal canal — that surrounds and protects your spinal cord as it travels between your brain and body.
When the spinal canal narrows anywhere along the spine, the condition is called spinal stenosis. You may have cervical stenosis (narrowing in your neck), but it’s more common to develop lumbar stenosis, which is when the condition affects your lower back.
As space in the canal gets tighter, it presses against the nerves, resulting in neck or lower back pain. You may also develop pain, tingling, and muscle weakness extending into your arms or legs, depending on whether the narrowing is in your back or neck.
Changes over time lead to spinal stenosis
Although some people are born with a narrow spinal canal, spinal stenosis typically develops over time, where it’s often caused by:
The intervertebral discs consist of a tough outer layer that encloses a gel-like substance in the center. Over the years, the outer layer dehydrates and degenerates.
As ongoing pressure is placed on the disc, the inner part can push out through the weakened covering, causing a herniation that protrudes into the spinal canal.
Osteoarthritis and bone spurs
Osteoarthritis develops as wear-and-tear causes cartilage degeneration. The resulting irritation between bones leads to the growth of bone spurs that take up space in the spinal canal.
When a disc slips out of its position, a condition called degenerative spondylolisthesis, it throws the vertebrae out of alignment, which has a significant impact on your spinal canal.
Minimally invasive surgery is an exceptional option
Our team starts your treatment using conservative therapies to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. When first-line options like medication, steroid injections, and physical therapy fail to improve your symptoms, we may recommend minimally invasive surgery.
The procedures to treat spinal stenosis can all be done with minimally invasive techniques, which means we make very small incisions, then insert narrow surgical tools through the openings to perform your surgery.
Minimally invasive spinal surgery has some important health advantages over traditional open surgery, such as:
- Reduced blood loss
- Less postoperative pain
- Quicker recovery
- Minimal scarring
- Lower risk of infection
If you must undergo surgery to achieve optimal health, you can’t underestimate the benefits of a minimally invasive procedure for minimal trauma and the best possible outcome.
Here’s another big benefit of minimally invasive spinal surgery you may not expect: Your muscles are spared.
Muscles stay intact
Traditional surgery involves one long incision that cuts through the muscles. You don’t have to worry about that with minimally invasive surgery.
Instead of cutting muscles, we use a device called a tubular retractor. After gently threading the retractor between muscle fibers, we expand the opening by gradually enlarging the retractor.
The opening doesn’t have to be very large to accommodate the specialized surgical tools, so the muscles are stretched only a little to create enough space. After your spinal stenosis is repaired, the muscles return to their normal position.
Retaining muscle integrity is especially vital for maintaining your mobility, restoring function, and for ensuring a quicker recovery.
Minimally invasive procedures that remedy spinal stenosis
The type of surgery you’ll need depends on the underlying cause of your spinal stenosis, but we always have two key goals: to decompress the nerves by removing the problem, such as a bone spur or herniation, and to be sure your spine is stable.
These are a few examples of the minimally invasive procedures we often perform to treat spinal stenosis:
- Decompressive laminectomy: Removing the roof of the vertebra to create more space for the spine
- Spinal fusion: Stabilizing the spine by fusing two vertebrae together
- Discectomy: Removing or trimming a herniated disc
- Foraminotomy: Enlarging the opening where nerves leave your spine
You don’t need to keep suffering with persistent back or neck pain due to spinal stenosis. Our doctors have successfully helped many people return to a more active life with minimally invasive surgery to treat the problem. To learn about your options, call or book an appointment online.