Updated: Jan 5
Because so many people suffer from lower back pain, it can be easy to dismiss it as “just getting older.” While it’s true that chronic pain in your lower back could be something relatively simple, it could also be a sign that something is seriously wrong.
One of the most commonly reported causes of serious chronic lower back pain is a progressive condition called Spinal Stenosis. This is an abnormal narrowing of the spinal canal which can add pressure to the spinal cord and the nerves traveling through the spine to the extremities. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, about ten percent of the population suffers from Spinal Stenosis. But that’s the total population. The odds are much higher in the over-50 crowd.
Genetics can play a causal role in Spinal Stenosis, but most people develop Spinal Stenosis over time, due to bone overgrowth, thickened ligaments, herniated discs, injuries and tumors or other abnormal growths.
People typically begin to notice early symptoms related to Spinal Stenosis in their late 40s and early 50s. These symptoms can include lower back pain, stiffness, frequent numbness and tingling in their joints. Because Spinal Stenosis symptoms are often not as intense as some other lower back conditions, people tend to put off seeking treatment, hoping to manage the pain with rest and over-the-counter pain medications.
In many cases, people wait ten or more years before finally deciding to do something about their increasing pain and decreasing quality of life. Unfortunately, Spinal Stenosis is progressive, and waiting to seek treatment can lead to worsening symptoms, including the loss of motor control and incontinence. If left untreated, Spinal Stenosis can cause permanent numbness, weakness, balance problems, even paralysis.
Diagnosing Spinal Stenosis
In our office, we begin with a physical examination followed by an imaging test, usually either an MRI or CT scan. After we eliminate potential secondary factors and establish a primary cause, we discuss the best treatment options. We never initiate treatment until the patient is fully informed about the benefits and potential side-effects of each treatment option.
If I have Spinal Stenosis, What are My Options?
If we catch the Spinal Stenosis early enough there are many non-surgical options that may ease or reduce the associated pain. These include medication, regular exercise, weight loss, physical therapy and steroid injections. It’s important to note here that these treatments are stopgaps that may delay the progression of the disease. They do not treat the underlying cause of the condition. At best, these treatment options offer temporary relief, not a long-term solution.
Fusion surgery is considered to be a “permanent” solution to Spinal Stenosis, though, as you will see, that may not be the case at all. This highly-invasive surgery involves removing the roof of bone overlying the spinal canal, placing screws and bars within the spine to stabilize the spine. Patients considering fusion surgery should understand that this is major surgery requiring long hospital stays and extended recovery time.
Side-effects of fusion surgery can include degeneration in and around the discs, which can lead to chronic pain, even after the patient has recovered from surgery.In other words, a patient could undergo painful, permanent fusion surgery, followed by painful, lengthy therapy and still see little or no real reduction in pain. So, while the procedure is permanent, the pain relief may not be.
21st Century Medicine – A Better Option
If your Spinal Stenosis symptoms have progressed beyond temporary pain relief measures, you need to know that a painful, invasive spinal fusion surgery is not your only option. Dr. Skaliy offers minimally invasive treatments that deliver proven results with the least possible discomfort to the patient.