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Your spine plays several key roles, not the least of which is furnishing the foundation of musculoskeletal support for your entire body. It also provides safe passage for your nervous system, a role that’s often overlooked until something goes wrong within the passageway, as is the case with both lumbar and cervical stenosis.

At our practice, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Douglas J. Abeles specializes in treating spinal disorders, helping our patients in Castro Valley, California, find much-needed relief from back problems. Whether you’re suffering from sciatica due to a herniated disc or low back compression due to degenerative stenosis, we offer the latest tools to remedy the issue.

Here’s a deeper dive into the types of stenosis and how the condition is best treated.

Stenosis: A matter of location

In general terms, stenosis refers to a narrowing of a channel. In this case, it’s your spinal canal. The 33 vertebrae that make up your spine play an invaluable and obvious role in providing you with support, range of motion, and mobility.

Hidden within these bony structures, however, is a narrow passageway for your nervous system, which travels from your brain and down your spine, branching out to reach almost every inch of your body. With stenosis, this small space narrows to the point that it may irritate nerves in the area, which can lead to significant pain and discomfort.

More often than not, stenosis occurs in the active areas of your spine, namely your cervical spine (neck) or lumbar spine (low back). So to answer the question posed in the title of this article, the big difference between the cervical stenosis and lumbar stenosis is their location.

And location is everything, especially in your spine. Lumbar stenosis typically involves peripheral nerves and their nerve roots, such as your sciatic nerve, which can lead to back pain and problems in the legs. On the other hand, cervical stenosis may directly affect your spinal cord. This condition is called myelopathy and carries far more serious consequences.

When stenosis is problematic

Stenosis can be brought on by any number of conditions, including:

  • Herniated or bulging disc
  • Congenital stenosis
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Injury

Many people with stenosis are unaware of the condition, as it builds gradually with age. The symptoms of each type of stenosis can range from mild to severe and may include the following:

Cervical stenosis

  • Pain in your neck that can radiate down through your shoulders and arms
  • Numbness and tingling in your arms
  • Weakness
  • Bladder or bowel dysfunction

Lumbar stenosis

  • Pain in your low back that can travel down one leg
  • Numbness and tingling in your legs
  • Weakness in your lower extremities
  • Leg cramps

In order to ward off more serious problems, especially with cervical stenosis, we recommend coming in to see Dr. Abeles if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. He can take a look and help determine next steps.

The best treatments for stenosis

Because there are so many conditions that can lead to cervical or lumbar stenosis, your treatment depends entirely upon the underlying reason why your spinal canal is narrowing. For example, if you have a herniated disc in your low back, we address the problematic disc, which will then clear up the stenosis.

If you have a degenerative or progressive condition that’s narrowing your spinal canal, and you’re beginning to show signs of myelopathy, we become more aggressive with surgical solutions to free up the space and take the pressure off of your nerves or spinal cord.

Rest assured, Dr. Abeles uses the latest, minimally invasive surgical techniques to improve your outcome and reduce your risks.

If you’d like to learn more about effective treatments for lumbar or cervical stenosis, please give us a call or use our online scheduling tool to set up an appointment.

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